President's Column: They Help Us Cope With “Rambo” Lawyers - Long-standing committee has a new name
by John Baker
"Troubled by Rude and Unprofessional Attorneys?"
These words have greeted Denver Bar members in a small ad in The Docket every month for more than 10 years. The ad offers a list of lawyers and their phone numbers.
So, who are these lawyers on the answering end of the phone line? They are the volunteer citizen lawyers of the Peer Professionalism Assistance Committee, formerly known as the Metropolitan Conciliation Panel.
In the early 1990s, local bar associations across the country, led by the American Bar Association, began to focus on a plague of unprofessional conduct by a small, but vocal and visible segment of the legal profession. Bar leaders organized and began to mediate professional disputes between lawyers.
At the DBA in 1995, Mary Malatesta and David Furgason concluded that the Denver legal community needed this type of intervention.
"With the increase in the numbers of lawyers in Denver, and with Hollywood and television shows like ‘L.A. Law’ suggesting the ‘Rambo’ model as the role model for young lawyers, Mary and I felt that lawyers would benefit from a hands-on approach to the increasing problem of unprofessional conduct," said Furgason.
Malatesta and Ferguson took their idea to the DBA Board of Trustees in 1995. Then-DBA President John Castellano threw his personal support behind the concept. The trustees approved the idea and the DBA Conciliation Panel was born.
Because most professionalism disputes occur not just between DBA members, but involve members of other metropolitan bar associations as well, the DBA panel expanded. In 2001, bar associations from Adams–Broomfield, Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, Gilpin and Jefferson counties joined in. The Metropolitan Conciliation Panel was born.
The panel this fall changed its name to the Professionalism Peer Assistance Committee. "This better reflects what the volunteers do today: provide peer-assisted, one-on-one counseling on how to handle professionalism issues," said co-chair Teresa Wilkins. However, if needed, the volunteers will still use conciliation and mediation methods as the intervention, she said.
When to Take Advantage
When a lawyer falls into the cross hairs of a Rambo attorney’s sight, the targeted has two options: call a PPA volunteer or go to www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/20980.
What are some examples of unprofessional conduct? Uncooperative scheduling, unreturned phone calls and correspondence are a few. Another Rambo-attorney strategy is to attack others personally in correspondence, e-mails or court documents. Some just are habitually rude and unnecessarily contentious in routine communications.
Assistance is free, voluntary (except when court ordered) and confidential. Solutions may include: 1) mentoring the calling attorney and providing advice on how to handle the situation; 2) contacting the offending attorney to discuss the professionalism issues or 3) meeting jointly with both attorneys to resolve the professionalism issues. However, the PPA volunteers do not assist the general community or clients with complaints, nor do the PPA lawyers handle violations of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (ethical violations).
Who are the Citizen Lawyers of the PPA?
Past presidents of the DBA and other Bar leaders were the original members of the conciliation panel. Ben Aisenberg, John Castellano, Howard Rosenberg and Ralph Torres were original members. As the membership of the metropolitan bar associations became more diverse, so did the committee. David Furgason, Mary Malatesta, Roger Castle, Mark Fogg, Fran Fontana, Rich Hennessey Pamela Mackey, Dave Steefel and I became members.
Lawyers from other metropolitan bar association were appointed to the committee, including T.J. Carney, Marion McBain, Barry Meister, Helen Shreves and Murray Wilkening, as well as the late Barbara Quade. Government lawyers include James O’Connor, Karen Pearson, Hal Warren and Teresa Wilkins. Some members have gone on to become judges, including Kerry Hada, Tammy Russell and the late Phil Figa. All of these volunteers are respected members of the legal profession, who are recognized for their professional practice of law.
All of the volunteer lawyers take turns being "on call" for two months at a time. They take time from their practice, their work and their families to provide for the common good and to improve the legal profession. These are the citizen lawyers of the PPA.