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TCL > November 2012 Issue > Improving the Profession and the Community One Goal at a Time

November 2012       Vol. 41, No. 11       Page  5
In and Around the Bar
CBA President's Message to Members

Improving the Profession and the Community One Goal at a Time
by Mark A. Fogg

 

 
   

Back in April of this year, CBA President-Elect Terry Ruckriegle and I organized and held a strategic planning conference with approximately sixty bar leaders to develop concrete goals for the CBA to accomplish over the next one to two years. There are several broad issues that attorneys consistently raise as problems, such as the public’s negative perception of lawyers, the lack of community or pro bono involvement, work–life imbalance, and unprofessional conduct. It can be difficult to develop specific, concrete goals in these areas. However, Terry and I both believe that it’s wise to set at least four to five goals during a presidency; accomplishing at least two or three will be marks of success.

In advance of the planning conference, the CBA staff sent a survey to bar leaders, asking them what they think the CBA’s priorities should be, and inviting more comprehensive proposals to flesh out ideas. Terry and I reviewed the survey results, along with roundtable notes from the last several Board of Governors meetings that say what issues bar representatives feel are most pressing. From the variety of input, the two of us came up with approximately twenty concrete goals around which to form potential projects or programs.

We then spent an afternoon with the sixty bar leaders, discussing the proposals in detail to make sure everyone understood the substance and scope of each. We asked the participants to cast five votes for their top priorities. We weighted the votes so that a first vote would receive five points, a second vote, four points, and so on. This way, several goals could easily make their way to the top and reflect a consensus of the group.

Continuing the Success of Projects Underway

Early on at the planning session, we agreed that we need to put continuing effort into several programs recently started. For example, because access to justice issues ranked high across the board in our session, the veterans’ program reflects one of our top priorities.

Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans

The CBA kicked off the veterans’ program on November 11, 2011 with a clinic in Denver. The CBA Young Lawyers Division helped organize the program, which was largely modeled after a Texas program that began in Houston many years ago. There are now seven established clinics in Colorado that have been developed in conjunction with the CBA through local bar associations and access to justice projects. They include the San Luis Valley Bar Association Pro Bono Project, Denver County, Elbert and Lincoln Counties, Mesa County, Larimer County, Moffat County, and the University of Colorado–Boulder Veterans Clinic. Many of the clinics occur on a monthly basis.

There also are regularly scheduled training sessions lasting approximately four hours. These are intended to educate lawyers on some of the more common legal issues for vets. Many of these issues, such as landlord/tenant and consumer problems, are common to many. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to become an expert in an area to help a vet. Many of the problems can be solved on the spot with the resource guides available to volunteer lawyers. For those cases that will require more time, there is a list of lawyers who have agreed to help vets on a pro bono basis in specific areas.

In addition to addressing the chief goal of helping those who have served and sacrificed, this program has been successful in several unique ways. First, it was a galvanizing project for the CBA Young Lawyers Division. Also, many lawyers learned that they can become specially certified by the Veterans Administration for disability cases, which can broaden their legal expertise. Second, lawyers who have not historically participated in access to justice projects have called the CBA asking how they can get involved. This demonstrates the great regard lawyers hold for veterans, and reflects the unique bond that exists among vets (many of the volunteers also have served).

Many thanks to the program’s co-chairs John Vaught and Ben Currier and to all of the attorney volunteers. We invite you to join us in growing this program. For more information about the training sessions and clinics and to find out about volunteer opportunities, visit www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/55/subID/27279/DPPLE or contact Carolyn Gravit, Director of the CBA’s Public and Legal Education Department, at cgravit@cobar.org.

The Pilot Mentor Program

The Pilot Mentor Program continues to expand. More than 125 mentor–mentee relationships have been created as a result of the program. I wrote extensively about the program several months ago.1 This is a partnership program through the CBA and the Chief Justice Commission on the Legal Profession. Mentors and mentees continue to receive fifteen CLE credits by participating in the program. Numerous new lawyers have said that the program has been a great benefit to them. Along with the participating groups I spoke about in my earlier article, the Douglas and Mesa County Bar Associations also plan to participate in the program, as does the Colorado Defense Lawyers Association. It also is exciting that plans are being made to hire an executive director by the end of 2012 to promote, organize, and facilitate the program. This individual would report to one of the Court’s advisory committees.

Any type of attorney group—for example, a law firm, government office, bar association, or Inn of Court—can participate. The CBA has many resources to offer and has everything you need to quickly put together a program. The pilot program is expected to expire at the end of 2013, so we need to have all participating groups enrolled by the end of 2012. Your group’s participation not only will help new lawyers, but also will provide much-needed information on how to improve the program. For further information, contact Melissa Nicoletti, Director of CBA Sections and Committees, at melissan@cobar.org.

Developing a Model Business Plan
for Moderate Income Clients

All of the top vote-getters at our strategic planning session were interested in access to justice issues. This is no surprise, given the huge cutbacks at every level for legal aid programs for the indigent. These programs have to be sustained and different models—other than those dependent on federal and state funding—have to be developed.

However, there is another great need that has arisen—assisting the lower middle class and middle class client who will not qualify for the indigent program standard of 125% of the poverty level (which is approximately $23,000 per year for a family of four). We are graduating 45,000 new lawyers in this country every year, and approximately 1,000 are admitted annually to practice in Colorado; yet a huge segment of our population cannot afford the civil justice system. There has been a 65% increase in pro se litigants in domestic relation cases in Colorado over the last several years. Courts are responding to this, in part, by developing pro se assistance programs in the courthouse. The Colorado Legislature recently approved twelve positions statewide for attorneys to be on hand to assist pro se litigants.2 This is of great help to judges, who cannot effectively work through the massive pro se dockets before them.

This also reflects that many lawyers are going to be left in the proverbial barn because we have not come up with creative solutions to this problem. Almost any type of representation and/or counseling by an attorney to a party is superior to no representation or advice at all.

The Colorado courts also are promoting unbundled legal services, otherwise known as limited-scope representation. This may be a foreign concept to many of us more senior lawyers. We were taught that we took on the entire case when hired. However, new rules provide for a client to contact you for counseling about a limited matter or to have you enter a limited appearance. This has been the focus of many of my discussions with local bar associations around the state. Several lawyers use it, many lawyers don’t know anything about it, and all the judges attending my presentations are very much in favor of it.

Unbundled legal services and sliding-scale programs and practices that accommodate the modest means client are here to stay and likely will become more pronounced. We have to get past our biases, and work toward changing our practices to meet the needs of modest means clients.

Born out of the need for representation by moderate income clients, Judge Taubman of the Court of Appeals has made a thoughtful proposal, and the CBA is creating a project task force to develop concrete plans for Colorado attorneys to develop a practice to obtain and retain the modest income client. Issues such as screening, fee agreements, informed consent, resources, and overhead control will be addressed. Judge Taubman and longtime access to justice attorney John Zakhem are co-chairs of the task force guiding this effort. The first meeting of the task force took place on October 23.

Helping the Local Bar Association Legal Aid Programs

Not all attorneys are aware that there are numerous local bar access to justice programs that exist alongside the statewide Colorado Legal Services (CLS). The programs provide essential representation on the local level, often where CLS is impossibly stretched financially and geographically. Funding comes from myriad sources. Due to the overall cuts in the legal services arena, most of the programs were confronting the possibility of closing their doors this year.

As a product of our strategic planning session, attorney Bill Berger came up with the idea of finding out whether the CBA sections would be willing to provide some of their reserves to keep these local programs afloat. The CBA agreed to match dollar-for-dollar whatever the CBA sections contributed. Every section that has been able to meet on the issue has voluntarily agreed to share in the funding. To date, we are very close to acquiring the funding that was cut from these programs so they can continue providing much-needed services. Clearly, other models have to be developed as long-range, sustainable solutions, but in the meantime, we are grateful to the CBA, the sections, and Bill Berger for stepping up on their behalf.

New Professionalism Teaching Tools

In addition to October having been declared "Professionalism Month" by CBA President David Masters and Chief Justice Michael Bender, and the many related events that took place throughout the month, the CBA and DBA Professionalism Coordinating Council want to create teaching tools that can be used—in addition to the professionalism vignettes—in law schools and by novice and experienced attorneys. There have been several meetings discussing more interactive teaching modalities, assistance to the law schools with their professionalism programs, and expansion of the vignette program. The desire is to demonstrate and emphasize positive attorney behavior, and not simply point out the shortcomings and problems of the profession and practicing attorneys.

Local Bar Visits

Many of the issues and programs I’ve presented here have been discussed at my local bar visits. Thus far, I have visited sixteen of the twenty-seven local bar associations in Colorado. My CLE-accredited talks, which are very interactive, deal with the positive and negative affect that changes in the profession and the culture at large (rapid digitization, for example) have had on our core values. I thoroughly appreciate member input, suggestions, and feedback, and I have enjoyed every visit. The robust discussions are motivating, and the new ideas that are generated are exciting to hear and consider. I am grateful for the hospitality shown me thus far in my visits, and I look forward to my future visits with the eleven remaining local bars. Thank you for your participation in the CBA.

Notes

1. See Fogg, "The Colorado Mentor Program—How It Works," 41 The Colorado Lawyer 5 (Aug. 2012), available at www.cobar.org/tcl/tcl_articles.cfm?articleid=7677.

2. For information about legislative matters related to the CBA, contact Michael Valdez, CBA Director of Legislative Relations, at michaelv@cobar.org.

© 2012 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved. Material from The Colorado Lawyer provided via this World Wide Web server is protected by the copyright laws of the United States and may not be reproduced in any way or medium without permission. This material also is subject to the disclaimers at http://www.cobar.org/tcl/disclaimer.cfm?year=2012.


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