Alpine Legal Services pro bono helpline needs lawyers

Colorado attorneys are not required to engage in pro bono work – free legal services – to maintain their licenses. In fact, this is true for all 50 states. Rule 6.1 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct states: “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those who are unable to pay. A lawyer must aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono public legal service per year. This is true for the Colorado Bar Association.

The key word here is “aspire”. Volunteer work is not compulsory; it’s just encouraged.

Perhaps this is why the Glenwood Springs-based Alpine Legal Services (ALS) legal aid office is struggling to hire lawyers for its weekly, Wednesday night helpline, Ask a Lawyer (AAL). . The helpline started decades ago as Thursday Night Bar. But, Jenny Wherry, director of ALS, said the name was changed because people thought lawyers were meeting at a bar.

The helpline, serving Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties, exists so those who don’t have the funds to hire a lawyer can call and speak for free about immigration, family law or litigation issues. civilian for 15 minutes.

“Anyone can call,” said Claire Noone, an attorney at Noone law firm in Glenwood Springs and Paonia. “These conversations allow people who feel foolish to ask questions or don’t know if they have rights or don’t have the money. [for a lawyer] have the access, time and attention of a lawyer. Nobody manages the Spanish-speaking line every Wednesday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

She told Sopris Sun that sometimes a caller only needs 15 minutes to share their story. “That alone gives them the confidence and clarity to represent themselves and move forward,” she said.

No one has explained that misunderstandings within the civil legal system lead people to think they have to hire a lawyer and spend a lot of money. She said most systems like small claims and divorce are designed so that people can represent themselves. “It’s empowering to let people know that they have the facts, to guide them through the legal process and that they are able to represent themselves. ”

Prior to COVID-19, AAL lawyers met with people in person at local libraries, touring weekly in Pitkin County, Basalt and all Garfield County libraries. “There was no call, no phone, no hotline, no Zoom option,” Wherry explained. “It was: you show up physically, in person, and you will speak to a lawyer.”

No one added that in-person services meant people had to leave their homes, find babysitters and find transportation to the library, which wasn’t always easy. “It also required more commitment from the lawyers,” she said.

With the onset of the pandemic, libraries have closed. Wherry said they had to act fast. “In April 2020, with the help of an Americorps volunteer, we went on the phone.” And, ALS has narrowed the scope of legal issues.

All of this may seem like the recipe for success. Even no one thinks COVID has opened up access to legal aid. “Someone can call during a break at work or when the kids are sleeping. You don’t need to have a car to get there. And, lawyers can volunteer from home. “More lawyers can do it without it being a big sacrifice,” she said.

But, only nine local lawyers (besides Noone) volunteered for the English-speaking AAL line this year. One lawyer volunteered 10 times, two took calls four nights, two three nights, and the rest volunteered once, according to ALS records. Wherry said Noone takes calls every week, sometimes working on both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking phones. Wherry will intervene if callers wait longer than 15 minutes. A total of 382 calls have been received so far this year.

Alexi Freeman, associate dean and professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, highlighted the circumstances that could prohibit pro bono work – lack of confidence in the subject, no support for business work and not enough time to non-billable hours. “Volunteer work can also be an emotional and mental challenge, as you often support individuals, groups or causes that are in real crisis,” she wrote in an email.

Jenny Wherry wonders if the days of the helpline are numbered, or if ALS will have to pay lawyers to handle the phones. She also wants to strengthen the recruitment process. “I could do a better job [listening] the reasons why it is so difficult to engage in pro bono service, ”she said.

Meanwhile, Claire Noone keeps taking calls on Wednesday nights, even though she has to do it alone. “Those who rent, have multiple jobs, commute long distances or don’t have the money to solve problems have a different experience in this valley,” she explained. “Anytime we have a disparity, when a group has access to all legal minds and resources, it perpetuates inequality and division, and deepens a wedge in our society. ”

Alpine Legal Services offers the Ask a Lawyer helpline in Spanish and English Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 970-368-2246.

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