Local Bar Association continues growth

REGION – You might have heard of the Grand Traverse-Leelanau-Antrim (GTLA) Bar Association, but did you know it's the only legal referral service north of Grand Rapids and one of only eight in the state?

The association gets about a dozen calls each day from people looking for legal help, says Executive Director George Beeby, and about one-third of the attorneys in the association are on the referral list. The first phone call with that attorney is free.

"We try to bridge the gap between the private person and the court system," said Beeby, who practiced law in Traverse City for 25 years.

Formed more than 35 years ago, the GTLA Bar Association has grown to more than 200 members-a mix of attorneys, paralegals, and retired judges.

"It started casually when a few attorneys would get together on boats and talk about the legal system, Beeby said. "Since then, it has grown tremendously."

In fact, approximately half of the attorneys in the three-county region are currently members of the association.

"That's a higher percentage rate than the downstate association," he added.

The GTLA Bar Association also offers free legal advice to people who can't afford an attorney.

Every Tuesday night volunteers from the association staff a free clinic at the Third Level Crisis Center in Traverse City, and members help out at the Women's Resource Center on a monthly basis.

The group's largest event is its annual "Law Day," held in early May. All day long, attorneys offer free legal advice in several locations across the three-county area. The association also honors a non-attorney who contributes to the legal system. This year the award went to Anne Magoun of Traverse City for her work with the League of Women Voters.

Members meet several times a year for seminars, continuing legal education, and networking. Past seminars have included discussions on topics like alternative dispute resolution and a forum with a judge about what does and and doesn't work in the courtroom.

The GTLA also helps staff and run the law library, located on the fourth floor of the Grand Traverse County Courthouse. A branch of the Traverse City Area District Library, it has thousands of law books, legal rulings and self-help information, as well as computers to use.

It is free and open to the public. Hours are daily, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. About 30 people per day use the law library, which can be reached at 922-4715. BN