CBA PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
BY JESSICA BROWN
In my previous President’s Message, I discussed my Lawyers as Leaders theme for the year and noted that, as a result of the two pandemics we are facing (COVID-19 and racially motivated violence), lawyers are needed, perhaps more than ever, to step up and lead in a variety of ways.1 One of the most accessible and impactful ways lawyers can lead is by providing pro bono legal services for struggling individuals and small businesses.
National Celebration of Pro Bono
Tis is the month in which we celebrate pro bono. More specifically, during the last week of October each year, we participate in the National Celebration of Pro Bono, which was launched by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service in 2009.
Tis year, the National Celebration of Pro Bono will take place from October 25 to 31. The CBA has encouraged local bar associations and access to justice committees to plan events to provide pro bono legal services, train lawyers to perform such services, and celebrate the attorneys in their communities who donate their time to provide legal services to those who cannot a ford a lawyer.
We hope that many of you plan to participate in these local events, most likely virtually. Whether in-person or on-screen, we always enjoy a celebration at the Bar—and especially look forward to celebrating for any reason in 2020.
Unprecedented Attorney Response
The ABA created the National Celebration of Pro Bono during another challenging period for our country—the Great Recession. Not surprisingly, demand for pro bono services spiked during the financial crisis and ensuing economic downturn. Fortunately, attorneys responded in force to meet the additional demand for pro bono services in 2009. Indeed, during that period, pro bono hours reported to the Pro Bono Institute increased more than 13%.2
In 2020, lawyers once again responded with a desire to help from the earliest days of the global pandemic. “Across the country,” it was noted in March, “legal aid organizations and pro bono partners are reporting a massive increase in volunteers looking to help people and businesses in need.”3 The CBA hopes and anticipates that lawyers will continue to step up and lead by providing pro bono legal services in the coming year and beyond as the need for these services continues to rise due to COVID-19 and its crippling effect on the economy.
Demand Runs the Gamut
The pandemic has been challenging for most Coloradans. But for those living in poverty or within marginalized communities, COVID-19’s impact has been and will continue to be especially devastating. First, these individuals are among the most likely to fall ill with the virus, which can have distressing consequences, even for those who recover.4
In addition, Coloradans who have lost or will lose their jobs, or who are fighting to keep their business from shuttering, will face difficulties that stretch far beyond the immediate health consequences. Many of these difficulties will have legal implications. For example, residents with low or no income will need help to avoid evictions and foreclosures. Small businesses will need rent abatement and other assistance to continue operating. Domestic disputes will likely intensify as family members are laid of or continue to work from home, with child support and parenting time orders requiring modifications, domestic violence increasing, and divorces on the rise. Individuals and businesses will need help accessing government benefits. And many others will need lawyers to help them through restructuring and bankruptcy processes, something most couldn’t have envisioned just eight months ago.
Leading the Way
The CBA has remained steadfast in its commitment to pro bono service and access to justice during this time, while also adjusting and adapting to meet the needs of the moment. In addition to updating its statewide Pro Bono Opportunities resource webpage5 with opportunities to help individuals and small businesses in need, Bar leadership and staff worked with the CBA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) to reconstitute the Disaster Legal Services program, which was originally created in the wake of the 2013 foods. The CBA Disaster Legal Services Procedure Manual provides a framework for (1) maintaining the Bar’s preparedness to respond to a disaster, (2) evaluating the need for disaster legal services, (3) formulating an appropriate response, and (4) implementing the response. CBA Access to Justice Director Kathleen Schoen and YLD representatives are following this framework to ensure the CBA is prepared with an appropriate disaster response plan.
COVID-19 is of course a very different type of natural disaster from the foods. And it presents new challenges that did not exist after the foods or during the Great Recession, in part because courts are operating at less than full capacity and in new ways. The CBA recognizes the court’s efforts to continue providing services during this time and has created a resource for staying apprised of changes in court operating procedures.6
Equally challenging, most legal services must be provided remotely at a time when many Americans still lack reliable internet access. According to a 2019 survey, 18% of adults from households earning less than $30,000 a year do not use the internet, either due to lack of access or expertise.7 The CBA is working to address the access issue: it’s had a lead role in urging the House and Senate to allocate funding to Colorado and all other states for adequate and a fordable high-speed internet access.8
Nevertheless, many pro bono legal services can be and are being provided remotely and despite modifications in court schedules and procedures. And many of us are looking for opportunities to connect—albeit virtually—to our communities during this turbulent year. While adapting to major changes is never easy, the new normal has created new ways for lawyers to get involved, including from the comfort of their own homes. And the CBA can again play a central role as both demand for pro bono services and attorney response to that demand rise.
CBA Programs and Partnerships
The CBA leads or assists with a variety of programs to make pro bono opportunities available to lawyers and clients. The table above provides links to more information and/or program contacts.
Federal Pro Se Clinic
The CBA runs the Federal Pro Se Clinic9 using funds provided by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The clinic works closely with...