Section 8: Metro Volunteer Lawyers
Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL), formerly known as The Thursday Night Bar Program (TNB), was established in 1966 when members of the Young Lawyers Section of the Denver Bar Association agreed to provide legal services at no cost to indigent persons in Denver. The attorneys met with clients in either the Five Points area of Denver or in the northwest section. The attorneys then met on Friday mornings to review the intakes and refer them to their friends for pro bono representation. Approximately 20 lawyers volunteered the first year. Eventually, a DBA staff person was responsible for the referral of cases to pro bono attorneys.
In 1998, a contest was held to rename the program to better reflect the program’s growth and expansion. The name of the program was changed from The Thursday Night Bar to Metro Volunteer Lawyers. Staff now consists of an Executive Director, a Legal Services Coordinator, a Family Law Court Program Coordinator, and a Program Assistant.
The subject matter of MVL cases varies. Colorado Legal Services handles the initial client intake process and then sends selected cases to MVL for referral. A majority of cases are domestic relations. Other case types include consumer, bankruptcy, landlord tenant, real estate, wills/POA, guardianship/conservatorships, probate, and tax issues. MVL does not handle criminal matters of any kind. We connect eligible clients with volunteer attorneys. Once a potential client has completed intake by calling the CLS intake number at (303) 837-1313, the Legal Services Coordinator reviews the file and begins contacting volunteer attorneys to try to place the case.
MVL coordinates and manages monthly Family Law Court Program clinics in Douglas, Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, and Jefferson Counties. The Family Law Court Program ("FLCP") assists clients with relatively uncomplicated, “uncontested” divorce or custody matters where the other party is not represented by an attorney. MVL also coordinates and manages post-decree clinics for domestic relations cases in Denver and Jefferson Counties. MVL recruits volunteer attorneys and paralegals, and collaborates with community partners to provide pro bono legal services to those in need.
Each District Court in the metropolitan area where the FLCP and/or MVL post-decree clinics are held provides space for the volunteers and MVL staff to prepare documents and to meet with clients. The Courts have also set aside specific dates on which the FLCP Permanent Orders Hearings are scheduled. Volunteer attorneys, law students, and legal support staff, recruited by MVL, are available to assist the clients through the court process. On the day of Permanent Orders Hearings, each client meets individually with a volunteer attorney. The attorney then represents the client for a brief hearing. Following the court hearing, pertinent court documents are copied and provided for all interested parties. If the case is not resolved on the court day, MVL may set the case for a subsequent court date or assist the client in obtaining individual representation.
From January 2009 through December 2010, MVL had 1311 Volunteer Attorneys in our database designated as willing participants on our panel. During that time, 367 Volunteer Attorneys took MVL cases. The Family Law Court Program Coordinator handles approximately 400-500 case files at any given time. In a year, the FLCP generally serves about one-half of the MVL applicants who open a case and carry it through to permanent orders. From January 2009- December 2010, the FLCP handled 1020 of our 2179 referred cases. People who did not receive individual representation from a volunteer attorney did receive some services from MVL, such as a referral to a volunteer, an opportunity to participate in the FLCP or a post-decree clinic, legal advice, or other recourse information. Some applicants for MVL services do not follow through with pursuing the services or with conducting their cases. When the TNB program began over 40 years ago, it was sponsored solely by the DBA. At the present time, MVL is cosponsored by the bar associations of the First Judicial District, Adams/Broomfield, Arapahoe and Douglas-Elbert counties. Program policy is established by a governing board consisting of representatives of these bar associations.
Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL) and Colorado Legal Services (CLS) have an integrated intake system. Clients must contact CLS and be interviewed to determine financial and case type eligibility. Other clients are referred through special arrangements with Project Safeguard and Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network. MVL only handles civil legal matters.
Clients accepted by MVL are referred on a no-fee or low-fee basis according to their incomes as determined by the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To be eligible for MVL’s services, an applicant’s income and assets must fall within these guidelines.
Clients must pay an administrative fee in the amount of $30.00 before they are referred to MVL volunteer attorneys. The $30.00 administration fee assists MVL and the volunteers to cover administrative costs such as service of process, copies, faxes, telephone calls, and postage.
Clients whose gross monthly household income is more than 125% of FPG (up to 150%) are referred on a low-fee basis: they pay $400 in attorney's fees, plus $299 in filing fees for bankruptcy cases, $100 for wills, and $55 an hour for all other types of assistance.
Clients may also be responsible for paying attorneys for any out-of-pocket expenses that exceed the $30.00 administrative fee. Such expenses may include photocopying, postage and long distance calls. These additional expenses generally do not exceed $20.00.
FLCP (Family Law Court Program) clients will be assessed a onetime $55.00 administrative fee if the opposing party is located in Colorado. However, if the opposing party is located out-of-state, the client will be required to pay $75.00 because the cost to serve process outside of Colorado is more expensive.
Potential and current clients are advised that any material misrepresentation by them of their income or assets can be grounds for them to be disqualified from further representation by MVL or its volunteer lawyers. Clients are required to inform MVL or their attorney of any change in their financial circumstances that may render them ineligible for no-fee or low-fee assistance. MVL maintains a panel of volunteer attorneys who have indicated a willingness to do pro bono cases. Any attorney licensed to practice in Colorado is eligible for the panel. MVL maintains malpractice insurance to cover attorneys representing MVL clients.
Clients are referred for representation in one of three ways. First, an individual client may be referred to an individual attorney. The client is expected to contact the attorney and initiate the attorney-client relationship. The attorney then provides whatever services are necessary and appropriate to conclude the client's matter.
Second, if the client has an uncontested divorce or custody matter, the client may be referred to the Family Law Court Program. Currently operating in Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties, the program offers legal assistance to clients in initiating their cases and provides volunteer attorneys to represent the clients at final orders hearings, scheduled once a month in each jurisdiction.
Third, if the client has a post-decree domestic relations matter, the client may be referred to a post-decree clinic in Denver or Jefferson Counties where Faegre & Benson, LLP, Holland & Hart, and The Johnson Sauer Legal Group, LLC offer unbundled legal services to pro se parties.