Legal Triage for the Community; Making a difference: Legal Night at Mi Casa
by Jeannine L. Miller
Sponsored by the Colorado Lawyers Committee and DBA Young Lawyers Division, Legal Night at Mi Casa opened its doors in February 2006. Since then, approximately 60 to 70 people have attended Legal Night each month, and the numbers are increasing. The monthly event has been such a success that plans are underway to open Legal Night in the Five Points neighborhood in January 2007.
"We see ourselves as performing a legal triage," said Timothy Macdonald. Attorneys Timothy Macdonald and Matthew Willis are the co-founders and organizers of Legal Night at Mi Casa. The evening provides clients an opportunity to talk with an attorney in an informal setting. Lawyers are careful to remind clients that they are not going to have an attorney represent them. The objective is not to provide clients with attorneys, but to offer clients legal guidance and referrals, explained attorney Suzanne Bruce.
According to Bruce, there are many people out there who just do not know where to begin. Legal Night at Mi Casa often is a starting point for those who have tried to navigate the legal system on their own. Signs on brown folding tables in a large class room at Mi Casa announce areas of law: immigration, family law, consumer, employment and housing.
Some clients come to Legal Night at Mi Casa with legal documents, or forms that they have started to prepare on their own. In September, for example, Sean Case met with attorney Matthew Willis. Case’s wife of seven years asked him for a divorce. Although Case did not want a divorce, he had filled out divorce papers to keep custody of his two children, ages seven and four.
"I filled some papers out," Case explained. "What I need to know is what I filled out wrong; what I filled out improperly."
Willis and Case discussed divorce and custody issues. Willis also quickly looked at Case’s Dissolution of Marriage Form. Willis then referred Case to the Family Law Clinic in Weld County, Denver County Divorce clinics, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, and Colorado Metro Referral. Willis explained that attorneys at the clinics would be available to help Case complete the divorce packet. The consultation lasted less than 15 minutes, and Case was pleased with the outcome. He said he planned to attend a clinic.
Attorney Suzanne Bruce has been involved with providing legal services to the underrepresented for more than six years. According to Bruce, the night started in 2000 with Colorado Center on Law and Policy at El Centro Bienestar and the specialty bar associations also contributed. Now, with a second location opening in less than a year, there will be more clients and a need for more attorneys.
"We need more people willing to devote their time to helping less privileged folks," Macdonald said. "You do not need to devote that much time," he added. "A few hours a month and you can do a world of good for a lot of people."