By Loren M. Brown
There are many honors that come with being CBA president. One of the most special is getting the privilege to sit on the Board of Directors for the Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado throughout the term. It is remarkable to witness truly great attorneys come together to find ways to provide legal services to our most vulnerable populations. Through this article, I hope to provide you with more information about legal aid, encourage you to donate (your time, money, or talent) to legal aid, and explain the very positive impact that your donation has beyond the donation itself.
I chose to write this article now because March marks the kickoff of the Legal Aid Foundation’s 12th Annual Associates Campaign for Justice.
Creation of the Associates Campaign
In 2003, Kenzo Kawanabe, now a distinguished partner at Davis Graham & Stubbs, picked up the gauntlet and established the Associates Campaign, the Legal Aid Foundation’s first organized effort to systematically encourage individual giving, particularly among younger lawyers, and to develop a new generation of equal justice leaders.
Now in its 12th year, the Associates Campaign has been extremely successful, each year seeing increased participation and raising more money. The Associates Campaign is spearheaded by an extraordinary group of young legal community leaders, who serve on the Foundation’s Associates Advisory Board and, in many cases, as one of the more than 60 Associates Campaign representatives at their firms. While the Associates Campaign is just one facet of the fundraising efforts for legal aid in Colorado, it is a key component of the overall fundraising plan.
This month, dozens of young lawyers from more than 50 law firms will lead the campaign. The main goal of the campaign is to raise money for our statewide legal aid programs. But, just as important, the Associates Campaign strives to nurture and cultivate (particularly among young lawyers) the strong tradition of support for legal aid that has long existed within the Colorado bar. In spearheading this year’s campaign, these young lawyers—and indeed all who contribute to the 2016 Associates Campaign—will be building on a proud history of leadership for legal aid in Colorado that goes back more than 100 years.
History and Beginnings of the Legal Aid Foundation
One of the first organized efforts to meet the civil legal needs of low-income Coloradans occurred in 1903, when students at the University of Denver’s School of Law began providing clinical assistance to the poor. By 1925, the demand for services had continued to grow, and the unmet need was so acute that the Denver Bar Association stepped in. This marked the creation of the Legal Aid Society of Denver. For years, the Legal Aid Society provided services through students and bar members who donated their time pro bono. By the early 1950s, its operations had grown to include a staff of four full-time lawyers, each earning a salary of $4,000 a year.
By 1965, virtually every major city in the country had some kind of organized legal aid program. Many, like the Legal Aid Society of Denver, were free-standing nonprofit corporations with paid staff. Others were run as committees of bar associations, still relying primarily on private lawyers who donated their time. Still others were units of municipal governments, or run by law schools. Although structured differently, the programs shared many common characteristics. First and foremost, they were all plagued by resources woefully inadequate to meet the civil legal needs of the poor.
This situation began to change in 1964, when Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act as a pillar of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The Act established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), which administered the Johnson Administration’s anti-poverty programs, and through which Congress made federal money available for legal aid for the first time. In 1971, the American Bar Association recommended the creation of a private entity, separate from the federal government, to administer the funds appropriated by Congress for civil legal aid. This finally came to fruition in 1974, when just a few days before resigning from office, President Richard Nixon signed a bill establishing the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). LSC is a private nonprofit corporation controlled by an independent bipartisan board, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. LSC was intended to make legal aid immune from the political pressures of the day and to ensure that necessary civil legal assistance for the poor was a permanent part of our system of justice.
With federal funding in place, the period from 1974 until 1980 was a time of relative stability and growth for most legal aid programs, including those in Colorado. By 1980, the Legal Aid Society of Denver had grown considerably and was serving all of metro Denver and the Front Range mountain communities. Colorado also had three additional LSC-funded legal aid programs—Pueblo County Legal Services, Pikes Peak Legal Services, and Colorado Rural Legal Services—as well as an LSC-funded legal services support center, the Colorado Coalition of Legal Services Programs. Over 85% of the funding for Colorado’s programs came from LSC.
The short period of relative stability and growth ended in 1981, when LSC funding was slashed by 25%. There was a serious threat that LSC would be eliminated altogether. Legal aid programs across the country, including those in Colorado, were forced to close offices, lay off staff, and dramatically reduce the level of services. The writing was on the wall: if legal aid programs were going to continue to be in a position to meet the most critical legal needs of the poor, significant additional state-based funding sources had to be found or established. Fortunately, leaders in Colorado’s legal community were up to the task, and they have been hard at work ever since to ensure that we are doing all we can to maximize resources for civil legal aid.
The Legal Aid Foundation in Its Current Form
In 1981, the Legal Aid Foundation was created to raise money for legal aid throughout the state. Through extraordinary leadership from the private bar, the Foundation quickly established and has maintained one of the most successful private bar campaigns in the country. Among the pantheon of Colorado legal community leaders who made this possible are the late Don Hoagland, as well as Greg Austin, Phil Kendall, David Butler, Bruce Campbell, Bill Walters, Fred Baumann, Dave Jankowski, Anne Castle, Bill Bianco, Mary Hurley Stuart, Sabrina Stavish, Dick Gast, Hugh Gottschalk, Jessica Brown, and current Board of Trustees Chair Chris Ford. The focus in the Legal Aid Foundation’s early years was on building strong law firm support, which continues to the present day, with the most prominent and well-regarded firms in the state making financial contributions every year, many of them at the Foundation’s target-giving leadership level.
The board members and supporters of the Legal Aid Foundation have worked tirelessly over the years to provide funding for legal services for our most vulnerable populations. This has been done in cooperation with the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation (COLTAF), the Colorado Access to Justice Commission, and many others, all working toward the singular goal of equal justice for all.
Where Does Your Money Go?
The short answer is: your money helps fund Colorado Legal Services (CLS). But it is much deeper than that. Your money helps provide justice and fairness to those who otherwise might not have a voice in our legal system.
CLS is the backbone of Colorado’s legal aid delivery system. It is the only program in the state that provides free legal services (legal advice, brief service, and full representation) to indigent clients in every Colorado county. Services are provided through a network of 14 offices: the largest is in Denver; smaller offices are in Alamosa, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Durango, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, Greeley, La Junta, Pueblo, and Salida; and offices staffed only by pro bono coordinators are in Frisco, Hayden, and Leadville. With few exceptions, CLS’s clients live at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines (currently $14,713 a year for a single individual and $30,313 a year for a family of four). CLS gives priority to the poor and elderly in greatest economic and social need, focusing on legal issues that involve basic necessities, including food, shelter, utilities, minimally adequate income, necessary medical care, and freedom from abuse and exploitation.
CLS also plays a critical role in providing necessary and easily accessible legal information to the community generally and in providing support and assistance for unrepresented litigants. CLS maintains an excellent website that provides extensive information about the civil legal problems that confront many individuals and families, as well as state-of-the-art interactive forms that allow unrepresented litigants to easily complete and print ready-to-file court documents. CLS also regularly provides free or very low-cost legal clinics, as well as a variety of community legal education programs.
Finally, CLS plays a critical role in ensuring the most effective use of pro bono resources dedicated to meeting the legal needs of low-income Coloradans. CLS works closely with the local bar-sponsored pro bono programs around the state, providing necessary training and support, and helping to coordinate the provision of services. In six of its 14 offices, CLS actually houses the local pro bono program and provides for coordinated intake. Three of those CLS offices (Frisco, Hayden, and Leadville) are staffed only by nonlawyer pro bono coordinators, who work to maximize the use of pro bono and extremely low-fee contract attorneys in meeting the legal needs of those living in our mountain communities. CLS maintains a special “Advocates” section on its website that provides online resources for pro bono lawyers, including instructional videos, and CLS lawyers provide training and support for pro bono lawyers throughout the state.
We are fortunate to have CLS and its dedicated staff working to meet the civil legal needs of low-income Coloradans, but they cannot do it alone. Because of inadequate resources, CLS is forced to turn away at least one income-eligible person for every person it is able to help. Our financial support, our commitment to pro bono service, and our leadership are essential to help fill the significant unmet need.
Is There a Financial Return on Your Donation?
Your donation to the Legal Aid Foundation does much more than place a lawyer to work for a few hours on a person’s legal problem. The hours in the office and courtroom translate into a social return on your investment, which in turn translates to significant economic benefits to the litigants (and those around them) well into the foreseeable future.
CLS provides over $69 million of net benefit to its clients and the Colorado community on a total funding of just over $10.3 million. In other words, for every dollar spent on legal aid in Colorado, our state receives $6.71 in benefits using standard Social Return on Investment analysis. This figure derives from an analysis of CLS 2014 work performed by Community Services Analysis, a company specializing in analyzing the impact of nonprofits.
Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is
Each year, the Legal Aid Foundation is at the top of my list for charitable giving. Please join me in providing financial support to legal aid in Colorado. If you have not donated to the Foundation before, I encourage you to do so now. In addition to my yearly donation, this year I will give $1 to the Foundation for every first-time donor who makes a financial contribution during the 2016 Associates Campaign. To make your contribution, visit legalaidfoundation.org and select “Donate Now.”
This article, with the exception of the last paragraph, was written with the significant assistance of Diana Poole, executive director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado.
Previously published in The Colorado Lawyer.