Questions often Asked
TO: CBA Officers
FROM: Stacy Chesney, Communications Specialist
Now that you're a leader of the bar association, more people may start holding you responsible for the state of the legal community and justice in the free world.
Here are some questions that are probably asked the most by reporters, editors and people behind you in grocery lines.
The "answers" we provide are obviously just suggestions – and some information that is relevant in Colorado. These are examples of answers you might give and information you might need. Most interviewers want you to be brief and you might only want to cover one point And you may have answers that far outshine these (and in that case, may want to help rewrite this – feel free). We've also included some useful figures.
In any case, we hope this is helpful.
ARE THERE TOO MANY LAWYERS?
That seems to be the popular consensus, but if you go with "what the market will bear" theory, the answer would seem to be no. According to the Career Services Office at the University of Denver College of Law, about 90% of their graduates find jobs within six months of graduating.
Sometimes there's an uneven distribution of lawyers, with gravitation of lawyers to large urban centers or seats of government where power is perceived, with lower levels of interest in rural or small town work. Many attorneys go to the more affluent areas.
Under our American system, as with other professions or lines of work, the demand for services will control the number of lawyers. As the number of lawyers reaches a level consistent with public demand for legal assistance, this will have an impact on employment opportunities and in turn, will affect the number of applicants to law schools.
Colorado has about 19,200 practicing attorneys (Denver has about 9,000).
An ABA study indicated the approximate ratio nationally of lawyers to the public is one lawyer for every 268 persons. Washington, D.C. has the highest per capita concentration of lawyers of any U.S. city with one lawyer for every 15 persons. (Not all live in D.C. The above statistics are from a 1991 ABA study). Colorado has one lawyer for every 144 people.
WHY DO LAWYERS FILE SO MANY FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITS?
We don't think they do. In fact in Colorado, lawyers (or the client filing the lawsuit) may have to pay the other side's attorneys fees if the suit is deemed "frivolous." That's Rule 11 in the Rules of Civil Procedure.
"Frivolous," of course, is a very subjective word. One Denver District Judge said he would hate to be the one to deny someone access to the legal system because he, the judge, thought the suit frivolous. What's frivolous to one person is quite a big deal to another.
Lawyers do not create these lawsuits. They are responding to clients who come to them with a problem.
The litigiousness in today's society is a reflection of social pressures, a more complex society, higher population levels, the emergence and strength of special interest groups, the fragmentation of society and weakened structures of family, church and community which in the past helped to resolve many issues.
Bar association committees are trying to educate lawyers and laypeople about arbitration, mediation, mini-trials and the like.
WHY DO LAWYERS REPRESENT PEOPLE WHO ARE OBVIOUSLY GUILTY?
Fortunately in America, you're considered innocent until proven guilty. You have a right to counsel and lawyers are obligated to provide it.
Thee "obviously guilty" person may in fact be innocent even with defense counsel. There are cases in which a person is convicted on such apparently strong evidence as eyewitness testimony, which later is found to be mistaken, or for any number of reasons.
As a matter of social conscience, our nation doesn't accept the proposition that people can be imprisoned on flimsy evidence or supposition, but instead requires a severe test. To put the state to that severe test, each person accused of crime has the right to be represented by counsel to ensure that the rights of the accused are protected at each stage of the proceedings.
DON'T LAWYERS DOMINATE THE LEGISLATURE AND USE THE LEGISLATIVE SYSTEM TO CREATE MORE LEGAL BUSINESS?
Actually, lawyers do not dominate the legislature. In Colorado, there are only 17 lawyers in the 100 member general assembly. There are 10 lawyers in the House of Representatives and seven lawyers in the Senate.
The tendency of the legislature over the past several years has been to scrutinize the legal system carefully and to move away from the status quo. Examples include major tort reform and mandatory arbitration as well as attempts to modify the methods and standards for awarding attorney fees in civil cases.
The bar association has sponsored or supported a wide variety of bills – for instance, in the bar sponsored SB 102, "Concerning Business Entities," which took effect July 1, 1998 and is designed to provide technical consistency among the various statutes governing business organizations in Colorado. The Family Law Section helped pass HB1183 "Concerning Child Custody," which removes the terms and concepts of "custody" from law and replaces it with an allocation of two of parental responsibilities: decision making and parenting time. The new law, which went into effect Feb. 1, 1999, changes substantive law as well as many statutory "fixes" for the new terms.
The bar is committed to helping the judicial process work more efficiently by supporting legislation to provide for additional judges and staff as well as programs which use successful alternative dispute resolution techniques.
WHY DO SO MANY ACCUSED CRIMINALS GET OFF ON TECHNICALITIES?
Actually, very few defendants "get off" on "technicalities."
So-called technicalities are grounded in the most basic constitutional protection. They must be safeguarded for each member of society, or the rights of all of society will be at risk.
There's been much debate over the "exclusionary rule" – an interpretation by the U.S. Supreme Court of the fourth amendment that says evidence may not be admitted in court if it was obtained in an illegal manner. Our republic could turn into a "police state" if law enforcement officers are allowed to break the law. Usually, just more hard work is needed to build a solid case with legally obtained evidence that can be admitted into a court.
The "insanity" defense is often derided. But it's based on the belief that it is inherently unfair to punish people for their criminal acts if they are not mentally responsible for those acts. Society's interest has to be protected, too, and the legal profession has attempted to assist in developing procedures to deal with the criminally insane other than imprisonment
ISN'T OUR JUSTICE SYSTEM JUST FOR THE RICH?
It's true that wealthy people have a wider selection of attorneys, just as they have a wider selection of doctors, dentists, hospitals, accountants, etc. But "justice for all" isn't an empty promise.
Throughout U.S. history, lawyers have recognized and responded to a professional ethical obligation to try to provide services for people who cannot afford them.
In Denver, for instance, the bar association spends fully one-fourth its budget on the Metro Volunteer Lawyers program, where lawyers volunteer their time to help indigent people with legal problems. 29 Firms and 634 volunteer lawyers handled 1,505 clients' concerns in 1998.
Problems are different, however, for the middle class, since they don't qualify financially for free programs. But the bar association is trying to help them through:
ISN'T IT UNETHICAL FOR LAWYERS TO ADVERTISE? WHY ARE THERE SO MANY TACKY LAWYER ADS?
Traditionally, lawyers were prohibited from advertising. In 1978 (Bates v. Arizona), the ban on advertising was dropped and more recently, the law has been liberalized.
Just as in any other service, business or profession, lawyers can advertise – with the stipulation that the advertising not be false, misleading or deceptive.
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that direct mail solicitation is constitutional (in Shapero v. Kentucky Bar Association). Still prohibited is in-person or telephone solicitation.
In Colorado, rules for "Advertising, Solicitation and Publicity" are found in the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.
WHAT DOES THE BAR ASSOCIATION DO?
The Colorado Bar Association is organized to provide services to lawyers. There are about 30 full-time equivalent staff people (some of whom also work for the Denver Bar Association) including:
- executive director and assistant executive director
- law practice management & technology director
- staff to produce The Colorado Lawyer, the monthly state publication
- director of administration/meeting planner
- public relations specialists
- director of finance
- liaison with committees & sections
- liaison with 27 local bars in Colorado and with statewide pro bono coordinators
- membership services director and assistant director
- public legal education director
- director of Colorado Lawyers Health Program
Most visible are bar association sections and committees. The Young Lawyers raise money for various charities. Other groups within the bar might work for simplified or more effective legislation in legal areas. Through its pro bono efforts, the bar offers an organized way for attorneys to help those who can't afford legal services.
The bar, through its continuing legal education arm, also offers a way for attorneys to keep current in the law.
We also believe the bar association is a good place to network, to mentor, to pick up leadership skills, to take classes in technology and to experience a legal community.