The Client: The San Francisco Bar Association Lawyer Referral Program

The Challenge: San Francisco spends over $7 million per year for court-appointed attorneys who represent indigent defendants whom the San Francisco Public Defender cannot represent.  The amount needed for indigent defense seemed unpredictable and the budget often fell far short of covering the costs.  In addition, significant time was spent in manual data entry and in analysis of cost trends.  In 2004, the San Francisco Bar Association entered into a contract with the Board of Supervisors and the Court to administer this program. The Bar wanted to:

  • understand when and why court-appointed counsel are used,
  • predict when and how much changes in case filings or other factors would impact program costs,
  • provide clear and defensible information to the Board of Supervisors,
  • maximize reimbursements from the state, and
  • minimize the time Bar staff and attorneys spent scheduling and billing.

The Approach

Managing significant and volatile indigent defense costs is critical for counties and courts. Working with the San Francisco Public Defender, the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, and representatives of the Bar Association, I mapped the current and recommended approach for appointing, paying and managing attorney costs; developed a protocol for reporting consistent and comparable information by all parties; analyzed appointment and payment trends; and evaluated state legislation concerning reimbursements.  I then helped the Bar determine the data to include in a new database and web based system of data entry. 

The Results

  • Greater predictability of and reductions in indigent defense costs.
  • Improved communication with policy makers.
  • A more efficient and robust web based appointment and payment system. 

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