ACCESS TO JUSTICE
BY MARK C. WILLIS
On June 6, 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at South Africa’s University of Cape Town and said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” Perhaps recognizing the ripple of hope that is created when individuals fight for the defenseless, the Colorado Supreme Court Oath of Admission asks future attorneys to swear to “use their knowledge for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system” and to “never reject . . . the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.”
This portion of the Oath of Admission, which is mandatory for all attorneys to be admitted to the Colorado bar, embodies the professional responsibility of each Colorado attorney “to provide legal services to those unable to pay.”2 Indeed, the official comments to Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct (Rule) 6.1 provide that “[e]very lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional workload, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” This is because there exists in Colorado a “critical need for legal services” among “persons of limited means” and the “disadvantaged.”4
One of Colorado’s largest disadvantaged populations in critical need of legal services is its indigent and homeless population. According to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s (MDHI) 2018 Point in Time Report, there are approximately 5,317 individuals experiencing homelessness in the seven counties that comprise the Denver Metropolitan area.5 About two-thirds of the region’s homeless population, or approximately 3,445 individuals, were identified in the City and County Denver alone.
The Colorado Poverty Law Project (CPLP), a Colorado nonprofit corporation, was created to address the critical legal needs of this population and to simultaneously foster the “ripple of hope” that Senator Kennedy spoke of over 50 years ago in South Africa. As explained by Blair Kanis, an attorney with Kutak Rock LLP who founded CPLP with colleague Tom Snyder, “the legal issues faced by individuals living in poverty are delicately interconnected. If one unravels, it can quickly have a disastrous effect on so many other aspects of someone’s life. For example, an improper benefit denial for even just a couple of months can lead to eviction and homelessness that impacts child custody.” The CPLP, according to Kanis, “seeks to help this population mitigate as many of these negative impacts...