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Denver Bar Foundation
Celebrating its 50th year anniversary, Metro Volunteer Lawyers (formerly the Thursday Night Bar) is a program of the Denver Bar Association, working to help bridge the gap in access to justice by coordinating the provision of pro bono civil legal services by attorneys within the Denver Metro Area to people in need. Metro Volunteer Lawyers is partially funded by the Denver Bar Foundation.
This year marks MVL's 50th anniversary. In honor of its anniversary, MVL is encouraging attorneys to reach 50 hours of pro bono service this year with its "50 for 50" challenge. MVL will be honoring its founders this year as well as giving out five Outstanding Sustained Volunteer Awards at the DBA awards ceremony on June 29, 2016. These awards honor some of MVL's most dedicated, long-term volunteers.
MVL recently implemented a new client database called LegalServer. This configurable web-based platform dynamically responds to the complex, rapidly changing challenges of providing quality, effective advocacy to the most vulnerable among us. LegalServer is aimed at improving access to justice in communities, and MVL believes it will help advance the organization's mission.
MVL's Rovira Scholar Fellow, Joey Scott, created a new Power of Attorney clinic, which was named the DBA's 2016 Outstanding Program of the Year. For this clinic, Joey partnered with community non-profits and low-income senior housing facilities, where attorneys volunteer their time to assist individuals complete powers of attorney and living wills.
Metro Volunteer Lawyers is the oldest continuing program of its kind in the United States. MVL was established in 1966 by a group of young Denver Bar Association lawyers, then called the Thursday Night Bar. The founding attorneys met with clients each Thursday evening. The attorneys provided what help and advice they could in person on Thursday nights, then met the next morning to discuss the clients' matters and assign themselves or other lawyers they recruited to carry on with the numerous matters that could not be completed during the Thursday night sessions. The efforts of these original lawyers continued and strengthened a long tradition of volunteerism and public service by lawyers all across Colorado.
The Thursday Night Bar was renamed Metro Volunteer Lawyers in 1998 to reflect the program's growth and expansion beyond Thursday nights. Today MVL is a program of the Denver Bar Association, co-sponsored by the Adams/Broomfield, Arapahoe, Douglas/Elbert, and First Judicial District Bar Associations. MVL has three full-time staff members, which include a Director, a Legal Services Coordinator, and a Family Law Court Program Coordinator, in addition to a part-time Program Assistant, a Rovira Scholar Fellow, and multiple student interns.
Executive Director Statement
"Being poor in America frequently means being treated poorly. When trying to seek help, such individuals are often left accepting sub-par treatment as their only option, as if they somehow deserve less due to their inability to pay for services. Seeing our clients treated in a professional manner by legal professionals, often providing a moment of dignity, is one of the most rewarding aspects of this type of work.
One of the reasons I was hired was because I know the inner workings of MVL so well. I first want to make MVL as efficient as possible internally, which in turn should help us grow in our ability to provide quality help to a large number of people in need. We also need to continue to improve our recruiting and training of volunteers while continuing to modernize many aspects of our organization."
-Philip H. Lietaer, Director
In 2015, MVL accepted over one thousand cases and received volunteer help from over 400 attorneys in the community. MVL helps stabilize families, reduce the number of cases clogging the courts, and move people toward self-sufficiency and full participation in society.
MVL is aiming to continue to increase the number of people served, while also recruit more attorneys to volunteer their time. MVL hopes to fully utilize its new database, LegalServer, to help modernize its operations and achieve these goals.
Board Chair/President Statement
"Access to justice for the most vulnerable segments of our population is a defining legal issue of our time. Too often, children, the elderly, the disabled, veterans, immigrants and those without the financial wherewithal to seek help in our complicated and intimidating legal system simply slip through the cracks. Their civil legal issues range from divorce, child custody and child support to bankruptcy, guardianship and landlord/tenant issues among others. This problem is illustrated by the shocking statistic that almost 75% of new domestic relations cases are being filed by pro se parties.
The sheer volume of those in need continues to grow and outpace MVL's limited resources. Our challenge now is to essentially do more with less and we will meet this challenge by continuing to improve our methods, increase our efficiency, take advantage of new technologies, pursue new revenue sources and recruit new volunteers. Overcoming the significant gap in access to justice will require creativity, new ways of thinking and all of our best efforts."
-Jake C. Eisenstein, Past MVL Board Chair
The most pressing needs for MVL are funding and volunteer attorneys in order to address such a large volume of people in need of civil legal services. MVL has been affected by a significant loss of funds from The Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation (COLTAF), and the future receipt of any funds from this source is at risk. Furthermore, MVL works closely with Colorado Legal Services (CLS), and the instability of federal funding has also had an impact on MVL over the years. Added to this, local bar associations, which provide essential funding to MVL, are having a more difficult time attracting new lawyers to become bar members.
The need for organizations like Metro Volunteer Lawyers is more important than ever. The country's poverty population has increased by 12 million people over the past 15 years, and over 15 percent of Colorado families qualify for civil legal aid. Colorado Legal Services only has 47 lawyers statewide to accommodate over 911,000 eligible people, and it must turn down at least one person for every person it helps. New statistics show that Denver has the sixth highest poverty rate in the nation among cities, and 200,000 children in Colorado still live in poverty. Organizations like MVL are critical in addressing this need by harnessing and coordinating attorneys in our community.
"I was overwhelmed by fear of what might happen to my daughter. Metro Volunteer Lawyers gave me peace and faith in humanity. From the time I met them, I knew how committed they were to help. I will be thankful to this group of lawyers for the rest of my life. The quality of support from Metro Volunteer Lawyers was excellent, especially the attorney who took my case who exceeded my expectations. He always displayed so much professionalism. Thanks to the commitment and great heart of this group of lawyers, my life took a complete change forever, and I obtained so much peace. Thank you wholeheartedly to Metro Volunteer Lawyers, and I wish them the very best."
-Client of MVL's Family Law Court Program