Denver Bar Association
June 2012
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Barristers Benefit Ball a Huge Support to MVL, But More Funding Needed

by Dianne A. Van Voorhees

Dianne Van Voorhees and her husband Brian pose at Barristers Benefit Ball.
Dianne Van Voorhees and her husband Brian pose at Barristers Benefit Ball.

am serving in my fifth year as the executive director of Metro Volunteer Lawyers and have just attended my fifth Barristers Benefit Ball in May. Before becoming director of the Denver Bar Association’s signature legal services program, I had been in private practice and knew about MVL through taking pro bono cases.

Like any private practitioner representing individuals, I was accustomed to taking phone calls from people looking for legal advice who could not afford to pay me or being stopped in the courthouse by judges asking me to provide basic procedural advice to struggling pro se parties in their courtrooms. There were some people I could help, but there were others who would need representation but could not obtain it. Luckily, I knew that our state and our community had at least some resources for those folks, and I was grateful to be able to refer those in need to Colorado Legal Services, MVL, Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network, Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, and others. Back then, I did not even know that the BBB was a fundraiser for MVL. I imagined that support from big firms, federal grants, and wealthy benefactors was plentiful for those programs and was hopeful my contribution of volunteer services helped in supporting the overall effort.

However, it turned out that I had no idea what it takes to support these invaluable programs. In fact, it seems many of us don’t. That ignorance has cost our community in serious ways. For example, the major funding that kept the Rocky Mountian Survivors Center going completely dried up and that organization, the only one in Colorado that specialized in helping asylum seekers from across the globe, was forced to close its doors. Colorado Legal Services has lost 12 full-time staffers and cannot afford to replace them. The future outlook for funding for CLS is not good. On all fronts funding is down, among federal grants, state grants, private grants, funds from the intererst made on COLTAF (Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation) accounts, firm, and individual donations. There is a bright spot: the Colorado Supreme Court will give CLS $1.5 million over the next two years from its attorney registration fund. But, non-attorneys are generally unaware and univolved in funding or otherwise supporting legal services.

"In Colorado, for example, despite their financial problems—or perhaps because of them—more and more citizens are seeking relief in the courts. In fact, district court filings in Colorado courts have increased 25.53 percent from 2009 to 2010 and 52 percent from 2001 to 2010," Adam Espinoza writes in "Ethical Considerations When Providing Unbundled Legal Services" from the September 2011 issue of The Colorado Lawyer.

He goes on to note that those who cannot afford to hire an attorney choose to represent themselves in court. In 2010, 52 percent of all cases filed in Colorado courts involved pro se parties, and those percentages are even greater in district court civil cases (56 percent), domestic relations cases (60 percent), misdemeanor criminal cases (64 percent), juvenile relinquishment cases (65 percent), and adoptions (73 percent), according to the article.

Like every other legal services program, the DBA’s MVL has not been immune to the impact of a depressed economy. Given the ripples in the economy, fundraising from the BBB has ranged from appoximately $50,000 to $100,000.

So what do we do? We soldier on. We continue to take pro bono cases and to mentor newer attorneys to instill that pro bono ethic in them. We also demonstrate the impact that legal services have on individuals, courts, and our overall system of justice. And, we get creative with our fundraising.

This year’s BBB featured past Denver Bar Association presidents in the Dancing with the Bar Stars for MVL competition that included online fundraising by the competitiors: Mark Fogg and his wife Pat Fogg, Elsa Martinez Tenreiro and her husband Steve Theis, and Bill Walters and his wife Christy Cutler. It’s thanks to these leaders, their families, friends, colleagues, clients, and others that more than $27,000 was raised in addition to the regular proceeds, and it will all benefit MVL. Without their stunning efforts to prepare for a public demonstration of their dancing skills and their tireless fundraising and ambassadorship for MVL, the BBB would not have been so successful.

On behalf of MVL, our staff, and our volunteer board, I want to express our sincere graditude to each and every person who contributed ideas, dollars, time, and effort into this fantastic event. It all goes toward supporting MVL’s misson: "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." Thank you. D


Dianne A. Van Voorhees is the executive director of the DBA’s Metro Volunteer Lawyers program.

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