Support Metro Volunteer Lawyers, Support the Community
by Ilene Lin Bloom
have been fortunate over the past few years to get involved with the Denver Bar Association’s legal aid program, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, also known as MVL. The last two cases I handled for MVL involved parents who were trying to obtain guardianship of a disabled adult child. In both cases, I had the opportunity not only to volunteer my time but also to mentor law students from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. These cases were their first exposure to the pro bono world, and it was exciting to see the students work together with the clients. It was especially gratifying when there was a favorable outcome.
MVL plays a vital role in providing access to justice in the Denver metro area. In 2010, MVL placed more than 1,400 cases with just over 420 volunteer lawyers. MVL helps the more vulnerable members of our communities with legal issues that affect their day-to-day existence, and it gives lawyers the opportunity to help these people. I believe we have a special responsibility as lawyers to do this because no one else can help these people with their legal issues in times of trouble. Our specialized knowledge and skills as lawyers can have a tremendous impact on the life of someone who needs, but cannot pay for, legal representation.
This year, I am also co-chairing the committee organizing MVL’s biggest annual fundraiser: the Barristers Benefit Ball. It has been great fun co-chairing the committee this year with MaryBeth Sobel Schroeder. The theme for the ball is “Dancing with the Bar Stars for MVL.” The Barristers Benefit Ball directly benefits MVL because a large portion of its small budget is generated from the proceeds of the event. Attending the ball helps MVL maintain its staff and pay its operating expenses, both of which are vital to sustaining and expanding its capacity to serve our community and MVL volunteers. Please consider attending and donating!
MVL strives to help people with serious civil legal issues, including adoption, bankruptcy, conservatorships, consumer debt, family law, estate planning, guardianships, immigration, landlord–tenant issues, probate, real estate, tax, and tort defense. People who come to MVL for help are in the midst of a life changing problem, and volunteer attorneys can help them overcome what seem like insurmountable circumstances. The need for legal aid among the poor continues to increase. There has been inadequate funding for legal aid in Colorado for quite some time, and the crisis of unmet legal needs has, not surprisingly, been exacerbated by the recession.
Volunteering for MVL has been a positive experience in many ways. I think pro bono work is grounding because it directly impacts lives in a meaningful and lasting way. Sometimes we forget how lucky we are and pro bono cases are a tangible reminder. In addition, pro bono cases offer real opportunities for professional growth. For newer attorneys, pro bono cases may offer an opportunity to obtain valuable courtroom experience. For experienced and retired attorneys, pro bono cases are an excellent way to put your accumulated skills to great use and achieve a rewarding sense of meaning later in one’s legal career. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard attorneys, after handling a pro bono case for the first time, say, “Now I really feel like a lawyer.” When doing pro bono work, you are serving as a role model for your profession and for the community.
I encourage people who practice outside of MVL’s practice areas but who are interested in MVL to jump right in! I personally think that working outside my comfort zone has made me a better lawyer, and the chance to do something different is a positive thing. I promise that volunteers are not thrown to the wolves. MVL offers training and very solid support and guidance from more experienced attorneys in any subject area. I have often used a mentor on my MVL cases and they have been excellent.
MVL is just one of several amazing organizations in Denver that offers pro bono legal opportunities. Pro bono service is an individual endeavor and it is important to find the type of case that engages you. I would encourage potential volunteers to speak with a variety of organizations before deciding on a pro bono project. MVL works closely with Colorado Legal Services, which has a variety of opportunities, as well. In addition, the DBA Access to Justice Committee and the Colorado Access to Justice Commission can provide ideas and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. I hope all lawyers will consider handling a pro bono matter. Imagine what could be done if more lawyers volunteered to take pro bono cases. D
Ilene Lin Bloom is a sole practitioner in Denver. She is President-Elect of the Denver Bar Association and is a member of the DBA Access to Justice Committee and the Colorado Access to Justice Commission.
Interested in pro bono? Find out more about MVL at metrovolunteerlawyers.org. For more about the DBA Access to Justice Committee, contact staff liaison Carolyn Gravit at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Colorado Legal Services, visit coloradolegalservices.org. For more about the Colorado Access to Justice Commission, contact staff liaison Jill Lafrenz at email@example.com.