Vol. 30, No. 4
Pro Bono Success Stories
Boulder County’s Biggest and Best Law Practice
by Alexander Garlin
It is a big and busy Boulder law practice: approximately 500 intake calls and 100 initial client conferences per month. Each potential client receives basic legal information and advice. For some, an initial consultation is all they need. The remaining 500 or so clients a year need full-blown legal representation, each case requiring an average of thirty lawyer hours. A survey for the year 2000 indicated that the majority of clients were very satisfied with the representation. However, this successful, large scale, local law practice is different from others. Most crucially, its clients cannot afford the legal services they desperately need, so many pay little or nothing for first-rate legal advice and representation. These clients look to Boulder County Legal Services ("BCLS") for help—and they get it.
BCLS screens clients and cases, determining legal merit and financial qualifications for legal help. The BCLS office can provide support and assistance to both pro bono attorneys and their clients, which improves the quality of advocacy for the indigent. BCLS offers advice and co-counseling on public assistance issues and in forma pauperis motions and can help access other volunteers including evaluators and appraisers. BCLS and the bar association can find an experienced attorney to give on-going guidance to any lawyer taking a case out of his or her field. When a pro bono attorney takes a case from BCLS, the program counts and tracks the case as a client served and can report to funding sources the amount of volunteer services being donated. This helps BCLS leverage funding from local governments and charities.
Judges widely agree that litigants are more likely to achieve just results in civil cases with legal representation. There is simply no substitute for representation by a competent and compassionate lawyer. At the same time, for those who go unrepresented, the BCLS Pro Se Program, staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students, and the 20th Judicial District’s Pro Se Case Manager provide valuable assistance to pro se litigants, reducing their confusion and improving the processing of cases for both courts and litigants.
BCLS Staff and Volunteer Attorneys
BCLS is a "mixed delivery" legal services office using lawyers on staff, lawyers under contract (but paid a mere pittance), and lawyers who agree to accept reduced fees and pro bono referrals. Intake meetings take place at the BCLS office, Longmont Coalition for Women in Crisis, or Longmont Senior Center, as well as at local hospitals, nursing homes, and client residences. Often, non-lawyer volunteers conduct these interviews and provide other important services, contributing more than 1,500 volunteer hours each year to BCLS and its clients.
Melody Fuller manages BCLS and has been with the office for fourteen years. She is assisted by Elizabeth Moulton, a young attorney working half-time for BCLS and half-time for the Denver County Legal Services office. Full-time non-attorney staff includes Sue Parenteau, pro bono coordinator, and Mary Jarmillo, receptionist. Volunteers round out the BCLS office staff.
While BCLS handles a large number of cases in house, it has relied on local pro bono attorneys to provide the bulk of civil legal assistance for the indigent in Boulder County. The primary focus of the office, given very limited and seemingly ever-shrinking funding, is to foster in the Bar an awareness of, and pro bono assistance for, Boulder’s neediest clients. Most years, pro bono attorneys represent 300 new clients, annually donating a total of more than 4,000 hours.
Surveys conducted by BCLS consistently show that clients are pleased with the services they receive from BCLS and its network of attorneys. A whopping 80 percent of BCLS clients reported being "very satisfied" with their attorney during the year 2000, and another 14 percent were "somewhat satisfied." Ninety-one percent were very satisfied with the courtesy with which they were treated by their attorneys, and 90 percent felt that their attorneys listened to them. Seventy-seven percent felt that professional representation made "quite a bit" of difference in helping them with their legal problems. Overall, past clients were clearly happy with every aspect of the services provided by pro bono attorneys.
Boulder County Bar Association members have always played an important role in the BCLS mission. By doing so, they make an enormous difference in achieving justice for poor people.
For more information about BCLS or to volunteer for the program, please contact Sue Parenteau, Pro Bono Coordinator, at (303) 449-2197.
Alexander Garlin is President of the Boulder County Bar Association. A version of this article was published in the February 2001 edition of the Boulder County Bar Newsletter.
This department is published bimonthly and is sponsored by the CBA Department of Public and Legal Services.
|Please send us your pro bono success stories to share with our readers. Contact Jo Ann Viola Salazar, CBA Director of Public and Legal Services, at (303) 824-5310; (800) 332-6736; e-mail her at: email@example.com.
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