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TCL > August 2000 Issue > Opening Statement

The Colorado Lawyer
August 2000
Vol. 29, No. 8 [Page  23]

© 2000 The Colorado Lawyer and Colorado Bar Association. All Rights Reserved.

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Features
CBA President's Message to Members

Opening Statement
by Dale R. Harris

tcl-august2000-daleIn an opening statement, we tell the court and jury what to expect during the trial. We review the evidence and focus on what’s really important to our case. We give them our theme for the case and explain why they should decide the case in our favor.

This is my opening statement for the short year I have the privilege of serving as president of the Colorado Bar Association ("CBA"). I want you to know what is on my mind and what I hope we can accomplish together this year.

I’ve sorted through many of the possible themes—things like professionalism, civility, pro bono responsibilities, service to the community. It is customary for bar presidents to stress one or more of these issues—and all of them have merit. But sometimes our members say we need a "time out" from all the reminders to "do good," not because these issues are unimportant, but because so much already has been said about them. What more can we say? After a while there is a tendency to rebel a little bit. We all know we need to do these things, and most of us try to do our part, but "just don’t keep preaching to us."

So my focus will be in a slightly different direction. Unless something unexpected comes along, here are the issues I plan to emphasize this year.

The Future of the Legal Profession

This is a time of unprecedented change—at least the pace of change seems unprecedented. What is here today truly is gone tomorrow. Incumbency and history are less relevant today than ever before. This is troubling, even threatening, to many of us in a profession whose tradition and culture is to look backward, not forward. As soon as we enter law school, we learn about stare decisis. We find the future by studying the past. (One writer put it this way: "Lawyers go through life walking backward.") But we cannot assume things will continue to be the way they have always been.

The fact is that forces now at work are changing our profession in ways we never would have dreamed of before. The legal system is perceived by large segments of the public as being too expensive, too slow, not user-friendly, too confrontational and, in many cases, not fair. As a consequence, more and more people are representing themselves or turning to other sources to solve their legal problems. In either case, they are finding ways to bypass lawyers.

Moreover, traditional boundaries are blurring—banks still take our deposits and lend us money, but they also try to sell insurance and handle our investments. So it is in the law. The Multidisciplinary Practice ("MDP") debate has awakened many of us to the reality that boundaries between the law and other professions are less well-defined now than in the past. The multi-jurisdictional practice of law raises similar questions about the continued relevance of traditional boundaries. And technology is forcing us to rethink all of our assumptions about the services we provide and how we provide them. Technology presents us with vast new opportunities, but it also poses new challenges. The Internet, in particular, already provides the public with access to an ever-growing array of products and information that once were available only from lawyers.

I’m not sure what all this means, but I am convinced that lawyers need to be talking about these issues and planning for the future. If we don’t help shape the future of our own profession, others will do it for us. I want to raise the level of awareness and discussion about these issues among our members. I also have asked the Executive Council to undertake a strategic planning effort to ensure that in an environment of rapid change, the CBA continues to provide the kind of support and assistance that our members are entitled to expect from us.

Diversity in the Legal Profession

Our profession is the vital connecting link between the public and the rule of law. If we hope to continue to be that link, we need to address the fact that we do not reflect the diversity of the public we serve. People of color make up 30 percent of the population of this country, and sometime during the first half of this century, the majority of our population will be people of color. Yet the legal profession today is about 92 percent white. I do not have the statistics, but I suspect that this disparity is not much different in Colorado. We must close this gap, and I hope the CBA will follow the lead of the American Bar Association, which has made the diversity issue a top priority. The CBA is a member of the president’s "Lawyers For One America" program. This program encourages lawyers to take action to ensure that the profession reflects the diversity of our society and that communities of color have access to the justice system. We also have taken other positive steps through the work of the Diversity in the Profession Committee.

There are several ways we might expand our efforts. We might, for example, work with the specialty bar associations to develop programs to introduce minority school children to law as a career. We might work more closely with CU and DU law schools to help support minority law students. Finally, we might ask our membership, especially members in law firms, to make greater efforts to improve the opportunities for employment and advancement of minority lawyers in the practice of law. We will be exploring all these ideas this year.

The Family Violence Program

Almost four years ago, Miles Cortez recognized that family violence was a "threat to the very fabric of our society" and that the organized bar "need[s] to serve in the effort to restore peace to our homes and neighborhoods."1 Miles had reason to be concerned. Family violence crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, and its cost in lives, emotional health, and raw economic terms is staggering. Under his leadership, the CBA made a major commitment to educate lawyers and judges about this problem and to participate with other organizations in community coalitions seeking solutions. We have a full-time program director, Kath Schoen, who has taken a leadership role in the community.

Past presidents Rebecca, Ben, and Bart have continued to give the program their full support. I intend to do so as well. We have asked Sarah Buel, a nationally acclaimed speaker on family violence, to be the featured luncheon speaker at the bar convention on Saturday, September 9 in Keystone. Sarah will talk about her personal journey from victim of domestic abuse to welfare mother to Harvard Law School graduate. Her story is heartbreaking and heartwarming. Please don’t miss it.

The Colorado Legal Services Program

As important as our individual pro bono efforts are, it seems indisputable that we will never be able to meet the legal needs of the underprivileged through volunteer efforts alone. The established legal aid programs are essential if we hope to be able to provide even the most basic access to the justice system. In 1999, the separate legal services programs in Colorado were combined into one program under the leadership of Jon Asher and a statewide board of directors. Although there undoubtedly have been some rough spots in the transition, this reorganized program deserves our support and our patience. One way we can help is by lending our support to efforts to obtain new and expanded financial assistance for legal services at the state and federal levels. I have every confidence that the reorganized program will be successful in expanding and improving the quality of legal services to those in need around the state.

Conclusion

This is a large agenda, and I have no illusions that there are quick and easy solutions to many of these issues. I think we can make progress, however, and I look forward to working with you this year. Thank you in advance for your support.

NOTE

1. Cortez, "A Peaceful Home," 25 The Colorado Lawyer 23 (Sept. 1996) at 24.

© 2000 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=2000.


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