I was originally going to title this article “A Call To Arm,” but only those who have seen me out and about over the past month would understand why that was putatively funny (I had shoulder surgery and am in a sling), so I demurred. However, my condition is apropos of the topic because being around the valley with one arm has reinforced my perception of the kindhearted nature of its denizens. This jogged my mind regarding service to the community and, more specifically, the role that attorneys should and do play in this critical component of life.
Colorado, like many states, expects its attorneys to render pro bono legal services in the course of their respective practices. Rule 6.1 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct quantifies this intention with a minimum standard of 50 hours per year of legal work done primarily without expectation of pay. Attorneys are to focus these efforts in rendering assistance directly to the indigent or to those charitable groups that focus is on helping those with limited means. Lawyers are also to make financial donations to those legal service organizations whose mission is to assist persons wanting of means.
The committee’s comments to rule 6.1 summarize these obligations: “Every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. Indeed, the oath that Colorado lawyers take upon admittance to the bar requires that a lawyer will never ‘reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.’”
It is a beautiful sentiment that balances out the privilege of belonging to the bar, and the advantages that come therewith, against the commensurate duties of sharing the lawyer’s expertise with those who lack the financial wherewithal to retain such knowledge.
By and large, this call to serve is answered by lawyers throughout this state and in our little neck of the woods. In heartwarming and sometimes creative ways, attorneys are helping those who need help. When attorney access to those in need in Lake County was in question, the Northwest Colorado Legal Services Project (NCLSP) started a Skype Clinic, leveraging technology to allow volunteer attorneys to give legal advice remotely and thereby significantly increasing the amount of Lake County residents that could be served. Having assisted at in-person NCLSP legal advice clinics, I can vouch that these are tough assignments. The advice-seekers bring seemingly intractable and tear-jerking legal issues to the table, and it taxes the brain and heart to postulate solutions in a short period of time. Regardless of the difficulty, it is usually the lawyer who leaves feeling grateful for the opportunity to help.
Despite the bar’s mandate for pro bono service and without discounting the dedicated attorneys who meet or far exceed such benchmark, it would be inaccurate to say that all attorneys have as sanguine a view of not getting paid for their time. Indeed, an unfortunate number of attorneys believe that they are performing pro bono legal service when their client fails to pay them, and they end up writing off the invoice. Not only is this completely counter to the spirit of giving, but the language of rule 6.1 as to “without expectation of pay” is the stake through the heart of this misguided and lamentable view.
Even with the numerous hours that attorneys devote to legal service without compensation in this community and across the nation, there is no question that each attorney (myself included) can and must do more to help those less fortunate. It is challenging to balance a professional career, family, social life and recreation with a service component, but it can be done and there are many testaments to that fact in this valley. Thank goodness, because in Eagle County alone, the needs of the community are staggering and only continue to increase and grow more complex.
The outward beauty of our home and the general happiness espoused by residents and visitors tends to obfuscate some serious problems. Through my participation in the Edwards Rotary Club, I have come to learn much about just how dire the situation is for the indigent members of our community. Representatives from all manner of local aid organizations share with us alarming statistics about not only legal needs, but the perils faced by young and old alike as they navigate their daily lives. It is a clarion call that I take seriously and share with all of you, attorney or not.
T.J. Voboril is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril, LLC, a local boutique civil litigation firm, and the Owner/Mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, please contact Mr. Voboril at (970) 306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.thompsonbrownlee.com.