Vol. 28, No. 7
Legal Services News
A New Era for Statewide Legal Services in Colorado
by Patricia Stout
In mid-1998, the three Colorado legal services programs funded by Legal Services Corporation ("LSC") formed a committee composed of staff and board representatives from each program to discuss merger of the three programs into one statewide entity ("Merger Committee"). These programs (collectively, "the Programs") are the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Denver, Colorado Rural Legal Services, Inc., and Pikes Peak/Arkansas River Legal Aid. The goal of the Merger Committee was to find a new and more effective way to serve the legal needs of low-income people in Colorado through more efficient and effective use of resources. The necessity to achieve this goal is underscored by the recent significant reductions in federal funding. In 1996, Colorado lost $1 million in legal services funding statewide; to date, these funds have not been replaced.
The Merger Committee conducted a series of meetings throughout 1998 and 1999 in an attempt to articulate a vision of a more effective legal services program—a comprehensive, integrated system with the purpose of providing meaningful access to a full range of legal services for as many low-income people throughout Colorado as possible. The Merger Committee identified five principles to guide it in achieving its goal:
- Meaningful Access: It should be easy for low-income people seeking help to make contact with the program.
- Legal Services: Within LSC regulations, which restrict work of its grantees to certain types of cases, the program should be seamless.
- Justice: The program should strive to provide access to justice for low-income people by aiming to produce just results within the legal system.
- As Many People as Possible: The program should strive to serve all low-income people with legal needs or problems, including helping them understand their rights and responsibilities.
- Throughout Colorado: The services a low-income person receives should not depend on where he or she resides—the same services should be provided in every part of the state.
In May 1999, the Programs set forth to achieve the goal of providing high quality legal services throughout Colorado by combining their resources into a single organization. At that time, board chairpersons and executive directors of the Programs signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the actions the Programs intended to effect by or before December 31, 1999.
The Programs had a head start on this process, as in June 1998, they began establishing statewide integrated program priorities. At this time, the Programs surveyed their boards and staff, the private bar, the judiciary, community organizations, client populations, and individual lawyers about the type of legal services the Programs should provide.1 The priorities for case services are to provide support for families; preserve the home; maintain and enhance economic stability; assure safety, stability and health; assure delivery of legal services to eligible clients; and assist members of populations with special vulnerabilities.
The new program proposed by the Merger Committee would allocate resources statewide, utilizing services delivery strategies designed to provide those priority services in the following ways:
Provision of representation — 60-70 percent
Provision of advice, referral, and brief services — 20-25 percent
Provision of information — 10-15 percent
Support community development — 2-5 percent
Support pro se litigants — 1-3 percent
The new merged system should provide more representation than the current programs because of reorganization of program functions. Proposed changes include a single statewide board of directors, central management, a stronger central administrative core, a centralized statewide intake system utilizing updated technology, development of uniform pro se materials, centralized litigation support, automated legal research, and branch offices throughout the state providing representation in priority areas.
Currently, the Programs are working to develop criteria to frame office location decisions. The Merger Committee sent out a survey in late May 1999 to local bar associations and the judiciary. Criteria developed to date include poverty population proximity; geographic centers for services and leadership; local funding sources and grants; distance/travel time to office sites; available resources to the program, including donated space; local legal/court practices, policies and idiosyncrasies; local pro bono/bar support or lack thereof; desire of local court and bar to support an office; current office locations; ability to attract/recruit qualified staff; cultural factors of geographical areas; and special client populations.
The staff and board members of the Programs, as well as pro bono volunteers, have worked hard to form a common vision of how best to help low-income people statewide through consistent, uniform statewide policies and procedures. Although the merger process has been long, intense, and sometimes arduous, the Programs believe that the merger will result in a new era of even better and stronger legal services in Colorado.
1. The governing boards acted pursuant to § 504(a) of Pub.L. 104-134 and § 1007(a)(2)(C)(I) and Legal Services Corporation Regulations 45 C.F.R. Part 1620.
Legal Services News is published bimonthly to apprise members of the bar of legal services projects, issues, and pro bono opportunities. Readers are encouraged to submit articles and topic ideas for this department to Department Editor Eric B. Liebman, with the firm of Brega & Winters, 1700 Lincoln St., #2222, Denver, CO 80203, (303) 866-9400.
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