|The Colorado Lawyer|
Vol. 31, No. 2 [Page 35]
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Access to Justice
The Role of Lawyers and Judges in Providing Access: The Access to Justice Conference
by JoAnn Viola Salazar
Jo Ann Viola Salazar is the CBA Director of Public and Legal Services, (303) 824-5310 or (800) 332-6736; firstname.lastname@example.org. This department is printed six times per calendar year. Readers interested in contributing an article on legal services, pro bono, and access to justice topics should contact Kathleen Gebhardt at (303) 499-8859 or Kjgebhardt@att.net.
Somewhere over the rainbow
I can see
There’s a land where there’s justice
Even for folks like me.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Courts are fair
And if I get evicted
Legal Aid would be there.
With apologies to Harold Arlen, composer, Wizard of Oz
The 2001 Access to Justice Conference was held May 11, 2001, at the University of Denver College of Law ("DU") for lawyers and other interested persons. It began with a song and some laughter. The participants tried to add some lightness to the program, despite the seriousness of the subject. The fact is that many people do not have access to justice in a meaningful way, which is a failure of the legal system that must be remedied. The purpose of the Conference was to examine significant issues and come up with possible remedies.
After a day of examining the problems in the system and the resources available, the Conference attendees shifted into a problem-solving mode and came up with a list of suggestions to improve access to justice. These suggestions are discussed below and are intended to help lawyers and judges determine how they how they can help make the legal system more efficient and accessible.
Judicial Support for Pro Bono
Pro bono representation, among other things, assists the courts by providing legal services to those who would need court assistance should they proceed with their cases pro se. Judges and their administrative staff can assist pro bono attorneys by: (1) expediting rulings on motions to proceed in forma pauperis; (2) expressing the intention to cooperate with counsel involved in only limited aspects of a suit; (3) approving liberal attorney fee awards for pro bono counsel when allowed by statute, rule, or contract; (4) ruling on the merits and procedural aspects that emphasize substance over form;1 and (5) honoring the spirit of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.2
Under Canon 4 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct,3judges can encourage pro bono representation. Some of the methods they can use include giving awards at local bar functions, writing general letters in support of pro bono activity, participating in committees and bar functions related to pro bono, acting in an advisory capacity to pro bono programs, and arranging the docket to allow pro bono attorneys to use time more efficiently.
Lawyer Support for Litigants
Lawyers could enlist the participation of other service providers in the pro bono effort. Service providers such as paralegals, process servers, court reporters, expert physicians, and psychologists can be asked to offer pro bono or low-cost help. Lawyers can offer lists of service providers’ areas of emphasis for pro bono work and other useful information to pro se litigants and other counsel.
Lawyers also can offer to participate more on an on-call basis for litigants as a lawsuit proceeds (without necessarily calling it unbundling), and can offer the services of non-lawyer service providers. Often, lawyers claim numerous legitimate reasons for being unable to handle the whole case. The use of non-lawyer service providers can help resolve this dilemma.
Finally, lawyers can teach seminars or clinics for pro se litigants, as well as offer their services on a volunteer basis to a local court’s pro se office. Lawyers who teach CLE courses can teach other lawyers how to get involved and do pro bono work through bar programs or directly through other service providers, such as Project Safeguard or El Centro Bienestar.
Legal services programs, pro bono programs, and other service providers should strive to coordinate with each other and with advocacy programs for particular client groups to ensure efficient delivery of legal services. For example, pro bono programs might work to identify low-cost service providers. They also can help obtain CLE credit approval for "self-study" when it is demonstrably necessary or helpful for counsel to participate in a pro bono case.
Recruiting and Retaining
Pro Bono Volunteers
Improving recruitment and retention of lawyers and paralegals for pro bono programs is critical. This requires spreading the word that community service in the form of pro bono legal service is a way lawyers can improve personal expertise by broadening their experience and stretching their talents. It also should be stressed that referrals to "known" pro bono providers taking on specialized cases often brings lawyers compensated referrals from others who are not as comfortable in that area of expertise.
The time to recruit lawyers for pro bono work is during law school. One program, entitled the "Metro Volunteer Lawyers/ University of Denver College of Law Student Mentoring Program," puts students to work on a case with the assistance of an experienced attorney-mentor. This program has been successful in increasing the number of pro bono cases accepted and has provided many students with a meaningful pro bono experience.
Public attention to pro bono also helps spread the word. At CLE seminars, judges and lawyers can speak of the need for and value of pro bono work. While those who accept pro bono cases do not usually do it for recognition, it is important that the legal community shows its appreciation to those who give their time and effort to the cause. For example, the Colorado Bar Association encourages recognition of those in the legal community who give their time and effort to people in need of assistance. Every year, the CBA Availability of Legal Services Committee presents the Schaetzel, Hoagland, and Pro Bono Coordinator of the Year Awards to deserving volunteers. Another award presented by the CBA is the 100-Hour Club Certificate, given to both lawyers and non-lawyers who donate 100 or more hours of their time to one of the many bar-sponsored pro bono programs within a one-year period.
Law School Support
Aside from programs such as the legal mentoring program at DU, law schools may play other roles in improving access to justice. Some students and professors have called for the institution of mandatory pro bono as a part of the legal educational environment. In the alternative, professors can promote the benefits of doing pro bono work in each course they teach by describing how students may gain experience, knowledge, and expertise, and by pointing out the possibilities for exposure to multiple clients and sources of referral.
Special Needs Litigants
Access to justice must be secured for mentally or physically impaired persons, immigrants, Native Americans, persons who do not speak or read English, and other groups that encounter barriers in seeking such access. For example, seminars attended by judges and lawyers can cover the importance of psychological issues that affect cases, which may help demystify and destigmatize the presence of clinical depression and similar conditions. Understanding and allowing for the impaired coping abilities among the ill or culturally disadvantaged will assist both attorneys and judges to become more informed when handling cases for such litigants.
When people need access to the legal system, it is because they are dealing with issues that profoundly affect their lives. Their access to the justice system must be meaningful and available. Those in the legal profession are the only ones who can make this happen. This list of suggestions is long. However, if every lawyer, judge, or paralegal takes just one suggestion and follows through, he or she can significantly influence the efficiency and accessibility of the system. After all, it is our system and our community that we will improve.
The discussion on Access to Justice will continue with the Citizens Justice Summit planned by CBA President Laird Milburn for April 20, 2002, and with the second Access to Justice Conference now in the planning stages for the fall of 2002.
1. E.g., notice pleadings as stated in C.R.C.P. 8.
2. See C.R.C.P. 1, which allows just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.
3. Kourlis and Taubman, "Changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct Allow Judges to Support Pro Bono Legal Services," 29 The Colorado Lawyer 41 (May 2000).
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