By Philip Lietaer
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL) is the largest pro bono program of the Denver Bar Association and is co-sponsored by the Adams/Broomfield, Arapahoe, Douglas/Elbert, and First Judicial District Bar Associations. MVL’s mission is “to bridge the gap in access to justice by coordinating the provision of pro bono legal services by volunteer lawyers within the Denver Metro Area to people who could not otherwise afford legal services for their civil legal issues.” The DBA’s annual Barristers Benefit Ball is MVL’s biggest annual fundraiser. The funds raised through the Barristers Benefit Ball help MVL maintain its programs and pay its operating expenses, both of which are vital to sustaining and expanding its capacity to serve our community.
From its founding days as the Thursday Night Bar, MVL has had a legacy of assisting clients by vetting cases and coordinating direct referrals to individual attorneys for pro bono representation. MVL secures pro bono representation for hundreds of clients every year for a multitude of case types, including divorce, social security, bankruptcy, wills/probate, guardianship/conservatorship, collections, adoptions, housing and contracts.
MVL has also established multiple clinics to help a large volume of clients every year in unique ways. The organization runs the popular Family Law Court Program, designed for a high volume of non-contested divorce and custody cases in Denver, Adams, Jefferson, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties. Attorneys, paralegals, and students assist clients in completing their initial pleadings, and attorneys help parties reach agreements and provide special limited appearances for the duration of non-contested hearings. MVL staff members manage these cases and arrange service of process. A recent client of the Family Law Court Program wrote:
I was overwhelmed by fear of what might happen to my daughter. Metro Volunteer Lawyers gave me peace and faith in humanity. From the time I met them, I knew how committed they were to help. I will be thankful to this group of lawyers for the rest of my life. The quality of support from Metro Volunteer Lawyers was excellent, especially the attorney who took my case who exceeded my expectations. He always displayed so much professionalism. Thanks to the commitment and great heart of this group of lawyers, my life took a complete change forever, and I obtained so much peace. Thank you wholeheartedly to Metro Volunteer Lawyers, and I wish them the very best.
In addition to the Family Law Court Program, MVL has one of the only post-decree clinics in the state. Assistance is provided to clients in family law cases where permanent orders have already been entered. MVL partners with law firms and Colorado’s Attorney General’s Office to provide counsel and advice to those in need. MVL also provides one of the only clinics in the Denver area aimed at providing legal services for the local Native American population — the monthly clinic created by former MVL Executive Director Dianne Van Voorhees and hosted by the Denver Indian Center.
Lastly, MVL hosts a Rovira Scholar Fellow, funded by Lois Ann Rovira in memory of her husband, the late Honorable Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Luis Rovira, who had a passion for pro bono work. The Rovira Scholar manages and coordinates MVL’s mentoring program while also creating special programs, such as the new Power of Attorney Clinic.
In order to continue to help clients in this manner, funding for MVL — particularly through the Barristers Benefit Ball — is critical. MVL has been affected by a significant loss of funds from The Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation (COLTAF), and the future receipt of any funds from this source is at risk. Furthermore, MVL works closely with Colorado Legal Services (CLS), and the instability of federal funding has also had an impact on MVL over the years. Added to this, local bar associations, which provide essential funding to MVL, are having a more difficult time attracting new lawyers to become bar members.
The need for organizations like Metro Volunteer Lawyers is more important than ever. The country’s poverty population has increased by 12 million people over the past 15 years, and over 15 percent of Colorado families qualify for civil legal aid. Colorado Legal Services only has 47 lawyers statewide to accommodate over 911,000 eligible people, and it must turn down at least one person for every person it helps. New statistics show that Denver has the sixth highest poverty rate in the nation among cities, and 200,000 children in Colorado still live in poverty. Organizations like MVL are critical in addressing this need by harnessing and coordinating attorneys in our community.
In order for MVL to do its part to help address this staggering need for legal help in the state, a successful Barristers Benefit Ball is essential. MVL is constantly looking for ways to help more people in need and grow its operations. So, purchase your ticket now, encourage your firm to purchase a table and tell someone you know about the event. Come enjoy a spectacularly fun night out for an important cause. It’s never too late to become a Superhero of MVL! D
To learn more, volunteer or donate, visit metrovolunteerlawyers.org.
For more information about the 2016 Barristers Benefit Ball, call Dana Collier Smith at 303-824-5318.
Philip Lietaer is the new director of Metro Volunteer Lawyers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously published in The Docket.