DBA, 9News Celebrate 20 Years of Lawline 9 Partnership
by Meghan Bush, Ann King
"Lawline 9 is the longest running volunteer call-in program in the country and a great volunteer service to our Denver community," said 9News researcher and Lawline 9 liaison Ann King.
The program initially started with Call for Action, a volunteer program that King directed at KLZ Radio in the mid-1980s. As part of the program, she worked with the DBA to host a monthly call-in program. In 1993, King moved to 9News and Lawline 9 was born. Each week, six DBA attorney volunteers answer at least 125 calls — that’s more than 125,000 legal questions in 20 years.
We’ve asked nine longtime Lawline 9 volunteers to share their stories from the past 20 years:
"Everyone wants to feel like he or she is helping others alleviate problems and doing some good for the community. This is something I can do. I enjoy discussing or strategizing with people about things they can do to resolve something that is bothering them, or at least better understand what is going on and what their options are. Lawline 9 allows me to do that with people who may otherwise not have the opportunity to talk to a lawyer about some of the things that are ... making their life difficult."
"For me, and I suspect for all Lawline 9 lawyers, Lawline 9 is a chance for us to ‘get out of the box’ of our regular law practice and to give some basic legal assistance to folks whom it appears have few options for legal advice. It is stimulating and personally rewarding all at once.
"I believe each Lawline 9 volunteer attorney has an anecdote or two of some wild, ‘law school exam’ fact pattern scenario. Here’s mine: My caller told me that her neighbor’s child, without permission, opened the gate to the caller’s backyard fence, inadvertently freeing the caller’s dog. The dog wandered a couple of blocks away, where it entered a house through a door that had been propped open and caused a bit of damage in that home. The caller wanted to know who was liable for the damage.
"So, we’ve all had some interesting calls, but the best, or most rewarding calls are certainly those where the caller is really lost and frustrated about what to do with their own legal situation, and, within a few minutes, you can analyze their problem, recast it for the caller so that the caller understands the pertinent legal issues they face, and then send them in a direction where they can either solve the problem on their own or arm them with a referral to an agency which is likely able to provide the assistance the caller needs."
"Lawline 9 meets a community need in a very ‘visible’ way. Folks that have questions about legal issues can call one number they see on the television screen and be given some brief legal advice, as well as references to a number of resources, regardless of the caller’s income level. Many people when confronted with a legal issue don’t have the first clue how to access legal resources and are either afraid to contact an attorney due to the cost they think they will incur or simply don’t know how to start the process. Lawline 9 allows them to start that process with a telephone call — and in a very low-key, anonymous way begin the access process.
"The old joke in the legal community is that there is pro bono work that we accomplish when clients don’t pay us, and then there is true pro bono work where we provide advice on a volunteer basis without expectation of payment. This is the latter, and the legal community has some very good resources to share with the public, even if it’s only through a short telephone conversation. Lawline 9 just makes it easy for their viewers to take advantage of that service."
"When a call comes out from the bar association for volunteers, I feel compelled to answer the call if I can. I was hesitant to volunteer for years because I didn’t think I knew anything that would be of help to the average person on the street. But [DBA Executive Director] Chuck Turner volunteered and enjoyed it; he encouraged me to try. So many of the people who call in don’t know where to start in solving a problem. Even if I don’t know the answer to a question, I have always been able to provide a referral and listen for as long as it takes. And sometimes it takes a long time!"
—Mary Jo Gross
"[Lawline 9] is the pure practice of law. I get to help people resolve problems (which sometimes are not really ‘legal’ problems) without having to be concerned about the business side of the practice. They are always happy to have the opportunity to talk to you, and often do not have any other access to legal advice.
"I feel very strongly that the law is the set of rules that holds our society together. To the extent that anyone suffers because of a lack of access to legal help, our society is weakened, and our common values are threatened.
"I received a call from a woman who was terrified because she had been sued over an account of some kind. She was literally in tears. I was able to reassure her that she could not be sent to jail over a bill, and gave her a basic overview of how litigation works. As we talked through the details, I was able to give her some negotiating tools to try to work out the problem. By the end of the call, I could hear her voice change from terrified to believing that she could get through this, and I felt confident that she not only could work through this problem, but that she had a new understanding of how to work through others, as well."
"I volunteer because there is such a demand from the public for legal advice on so many facets of their lives, but who are afraid to seek advice from an attorney for fear that it may make them look foolish, ignorant, or stupid, or because they are simply unable to afford it.
"There are so many stories that come to mind that it is difficult to pick just one. However, one that comes to mind involves a time when only three of us showed up for the early shift. The subject was ‘general legal’ and my two fellow volunteers had experience in Social Security disability claims and landlord–tenant matters, but felt uncomfortable answering any questions dealing with personal injury, an area in which I have a great deal of experience. As a result, whenever a personal injury question came in, they would hold their call until after I was off the phone and then pass me their phone. I, in turn, would then pass my phone. Wouldn't you know it, but the majority of calls that came in involved some type of personal injury, and the end result was that I virtually got tied up in the phone cords because passing the phone didn't always work, and I had to run around the table to answer different phones. Needless to say, at that point, I looked more like a frazzled and harried telephone order taker at holiday season than a professional attorney, but it gave us all a good laugh and kept the mood light for the balance of the evening."
—Kenneth R. Lampton, Jr.
"As a young attorney, I was looking for a volunteer opportunity when Paula Woodward and Ann King, along with the Denver Bar Association, started the weekly Lawline 9 program. The people that call into Lawline 9 have important legal issues to resolve, and generally do not have the financial wherewithal to hire a personal attorney. As a member of Denver’s legal community, it is rewarding to be able to assist these viewers by providing counseling and a listing of appropriate legal resources to use, which they might not otherwise be aware.
"While Ann King provides the topic for each week’s program, the majority of viewers ask questions on many unrelated legal issues. For example, if the topic is employment, callers will instead ask questions on landlord–tenant, bankruptcy, criminal, Social Security, or personal injury matters. We all try to assist these callers, no matter what the issue, even though it might not be related to that evening’s topic or within our area of practice."
"Lawline 9 is a valuable community service opportunity for lawyers to interact with the public at large and to let the public know that attorneys do not charge for everything. It also tests your legal acumen right on the spot. Although I typically have a hard time breaking away from my office to get over to the station, I almost always come away feeling better for the experience.
"When callers get through to a lawyer, most often they first ask, ‘Are you a real lawyer?’ When you assure them that you are, the caller is so appreciative. Even if you have had a difficult day before arriving to do a shift at Lawline 9, just hearing a caller express his gratitude and to be able to help someone out is fulfilling and uplifting. … Interacting with callers at Lawline 9 underscores the importance of the ‘counselor at law’ part of our ‘attorney and counselor at law’ designation. And often what callers are seeking is guidance on whether to pursue litigation. I have the most fun empowering them to solve the problem on their own or to represent themselves by coaching them through a small claims court process."
"When I first began practicing in 2004, I immediately signed up for the probate Lawline 9 events, as it was an extremely easy way to kick-start my community service involvement in the legal community within a well-organized, existing framework.
"One of my favorite memories of volunteering pertains to a call that I received that was in no way related to the probate field. For those of us who have volunteered for Lawline 9, we know that you can receive a fair number of calls on any given night that are wholly unrelated to the evening’s topic. This caller began by explaining that he lived next door to a church that was leasing out part of its rooftop space so that someone could place satellite [dishes] or other equipment of that sort. Essentially, he believed that the church was not getting as much money as it deserved and that he could negotiate a much better lease arrangement on behalf of the church and he wanted to know how to approach the situation. … While it was completely unrelated to my practice area and I could not discern any legal basis for him to be involved, I believe it helped him to talk out his ideas so that he would understand that good intentions do not automatically give you an ability to become involved in a particular transaction or situation. At the end of the call, he thanked me profusely for my time. ... In the end, I feel that he took away a positive image of the legal profession."
—Leia Ursery D
Meghan Bush is program manager for the Public Legal Education Department of the Colorado Bar and Denver Bar Associations. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ann King is a researcher at 9News and a Lawline 9 liaison. She may be reached at email@example.com.