“Lawyers have a license to practice law, a monopoly on certain services. But for that privilege and status, lawyers have an obligation to provide legal services to those without wherewithal to pay, to respond to needs outside themselves, to help repair tears in their communities.”
~ U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (March 2014)
In the United States, income inequality is a major societal issue. Many individuals cannot afford lawyers for their divorce cases, business disputes, tenant disputes and other relatively simple matters. To put this in perspective, a person charged with a crime who has little or no funds is offered a lawyer. If the public defender’s office cannot take the case, criminal defense lawyers accept cases through the Alternate Defense Counsel, and their hourly rates are significantly reduced. In contrast, people with limited means who have a civil matter don’t have the same opportunities to get a lawyer.
Many lawyers give back to their community and society. While lawyers volunteer their time to take on pro bono cases and serve on DBA committees and non-profit boards, there is still progress to be made when it comes to access to justice.
While you are enjoying the change of seasons and waiting for the Halloween candy to arrive, remember thatPro Bono Week is October 23–29. The Colorado Supreme Court encourages every lawyer to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono and related legal community service per year. Look at the current issue of The Colorado Lawyer to see how many lawyers have participated in this program. If your name is not there, or if your firm is not listed, now is the time to get involved.
We applaud those lawyers who take pro bono cases for individuals. We also thank the law firms that support their lawyers in handling cases that will make a significant difference in individuals’ lives. These cases involve improvements to the criminal justice system, school funding, veterans’ access to services and other issues that impact people’s everyday lives. Despite the good work that lawyers do, many people still do not have access to legal services concerning basic needs because they cannot afford a lawyer. Unfortunately, the demand for pro bono work remains unmet.
The DBA has great programs that facilitate pro bono activities. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL). Its mission is to provide pro bono civil legal services through volunteer lawyers within the Denver metro area. Please stop by the DBA offices and meet our new MVL director, Toni-Anne Dasent. I would also encourage you to attend the DBA’s premier event in the spring, the Barristers Benefit Ball, which raises critical funds for MVL. Finally — and most importantly — become a champion of MVL’s “50 hours for 50 years” challenge by taking a case.
If handling an individual pro bono case is not your cup of tea, the DBA has an Access to Justice Committee co-chaired by Noah Patterson and Shelly Dill that offers fantastic opportunities to provide pro bono legal services. (Check out their introduction to the Access to Justice Series in the September 2016 issue of The Colorado Lawyer.) The committee works on many different pro bono projects, including monthly pro se clinics for bankruptcy, family and child support, Legal Nights, the Colorado Poverty Law Clinic, and other wonderful programs. This is a great way to meet your colleagues while giving back to the community.
I recently read an article about the positive impact that giving back to the community has on your well-being. By helping others, you are helping yourself. That is what I call a win-win situation! Enjoy the cider, fall leaves and that warm feeling you get by doing pro bono work.
Previously published in The Docket.