MVL’ s Citizen Lawyers: The DBA can do better
by John Baker
In the beginning — in 1966 — approximately 20 lawyers met every Thursday night.
They offered legal advice to poverty-stricken clients who came to the Denver Legal Aid offices, which were located on the north side of Denver in the Five Points neighborhood. Qualifying client cases were assigned, and these original citizen attorneys represented clients on a pro bono basis. This was the Thursday Night Bar.
Forty-four years later, this pro bono tradition continues today as the Metropolitan Volunteer Lawyers.
Have Denver attorneys fulfilled the vision of founding members, as quoted above in the 1966 News article? Let’s explore that answer in depth.
Armed with a “lean-and-mean” staff of four and volunteer attorneys, today’s MVL is a department of the Denver Bar Association, working to pair qualified, needy clients with attorneys. MVL today works with local bars in Adams/Broomfield Counties, Arapahoe County, Douglas County and the 1st Judicial District. Eighteen volunteer lawyers from the five bar associations serve on the MVL Governing Board and oversee the operations. Rich Harris of the DBA serves as chair of the governing board.
In 2009, there were 1,303 attorneys on the MVL panel, those who have agreed to take cases. However, only 366 of these volunteers took an MVL case or worked in the Family Law Court Program (FLCP) on uncontested divorce cases last year.
MVL and FLCP accepted almost 1,700 cases in 2009. That means that the 366 loyal volunteers handled more than 4.5 cases apiece! That is some heavy lifting!
Considering that there are more than 8,000 lawyer members of the DBA, these few volunteers are carrying more than their share of the pro bono effort.
The DBA needs to do better.
Only those of us with law licenses can appear in court and sign pleadings. The courtroom lawyers among us have a responsibility to help MVL clients.
Let’s shine a spotlight, for a moment, on some loyal MVL volunteers who have taken on their fair share of pro bono cases, according to MVL executive director Dianne Van Voorhees and longtime legal services coordinator Patricia Trujillo.
Jim Golanty is a retired attorney, who handles multiple cases for MVL. He helped a client who was evicted from her home after the owner’s mortgage was foreclosed. The landlord who leased the house failed to tell the client about the foreclosure. With his help, the lender gave the client money to move. In a second case, Jim is helping an elderly client with a claim against a company that charged her credit card in exchange for no services or products.
Adam Bowers is a bankruptcy attorney who has taken some of MVL’s most challenging bankruptcy cases. Adam works through difficult issues and he simply helps clients get what they need.
Coleen McCoy is a relatively new attorney who has been volunteering with MVL since last summer. She helps with the FLCP clients and represents them at the FLCP clinics, as well. Colleen helped get final orders that protected one client from enduring further abuse from a spouse.
Bridget McCann volunteers every month for the FLCP. Bridget has honed her skills and expertise and now serves as one of the FLCP mentoring attorneys when new attorneys join. Bridget is reliable and does whatever she can to help out, during times when there is a shortage of experienced FLCP volunteers.
Jim, Adam, Coleen, Bridget and the 362 other volunteers who took a case pro bono last year couldn’t possibly do all the work that needs to be done. The wait list of clients is long.
“Especially now, amidst this economic recession, it is incumbent upon the legal community to step up now and support Denver’s flagship pro bono organization, the MVL,” says Chair of the MVL Board, Rich Harris. “MVL provides a unique opportunity to help people in crisis situations.”
There are three main ways to support MVL.
First, sign up to serve as a volunteer lawyer and handle at least one case per calendar year. Cases to choose from include creditor–debtor, bankruptcy, landlord–tenant, uninsured liability and family law. Remember, MVL cases are covered under the DBA liability insurance. Furthermore, not only can you feel good about helping needy clients, but MVL cases also qualify for CLE credits. MVL board members and existing volunteers are always willing to take a call or answer an e-mail about a client, a case or a particular legal issue.
More experienced lawyers can make additional impact through the DBA Mentoring Program, in which a younger lawyer as mentor and mentee work on an MVL case.
Second, step up and volunteer at FLCP clinics two or three times a year. This only requires you to work for one day to help family law clients through their permanent orders hearing in non-contested divorce cases. Experienced volunteers help supervise and support to answer your legal and procedural questions.
Third, support the festive Barrister Benefit Ball on Saturday, May 1. The theme at the ball this year will be “Citizen Lawyer.” Buy a table, half table or a couple of chairs, because all of the proceeds go to the support of MVL. The festive event honors all of the MVL Citizen Lawyers. It is a great opportunity to get dressed up, and put our money where our mouth is, supporting legal aid services for justice for all.