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Official Magazine of the Denver Bar Association

Metro Volunteer Lawyers: A Portrait

 

 

etro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL) is a program of the Denver Bar Association, funded in part by the Arapahoe, Douglas/Elbert, Adams and Jefferson County Bar Associations. MVL has been in existence for over 50 years and is filled with tradition and functionality. As the Director of Metro Volunteer Lawyers, I am often asked about the specific projects and programs we organize. In explaining the work of MVL, I implore you to ask yourself whether serving our entire population, and in particular, those most in need, is a worthwhile goal for your personal growth and the development of our community.
MVL, and the phenomenal volunteers who make our work possible, are often thought of as “poverty” lawyers. While there can be no argument that we serve a community that is impoverished, there are significant costs involved to effectively administer and facilitate a program as in-depth and expansive as ours. Pursuant to the Chief Justice Directives, MVL serves a population whose income does not exceed 200% of poverty level. The five programs we facilitate in five counties require significant resources: time, energy, enthusiasm and money. There is no possible way that the dedication and level of service demonstrated by MVL staff, DBA staff and our volunteers could be achieved without the funding support we receive from the Bar Associations, COLTAF, and the Denver Bar Foundation, as well as private donors such as the Rovira and Allegretti families. And while the actual funds received are critical, the real gift is given to us by our volunteers in their time and expertise.
While we would like nothing more than to be able to provide full pro bono representation to each and every client that walks through our doors, reality does not provide for such circumstances. We are so grateful for our on-going relationship with Colorado Legal Services, who provide not only volunteers to facilitate the intake process, but also exceptional staff who work with us to serve as many individuals as we can. Colorado Legal Services additionally donates office space to MVL, and as we are housed in the same building, our communication and relationship continues to grow, to the benefit of our community.
We would be remiss if we failed to discuss the support of the Denver Bar Association and its staff. MVL works integrally with the CBA and DBA to fulfill our mission. Serving those in need takes time, energy, enthusiasm and staffing. The staff at MVL are dedicated and hardworking; their leadership in each of the programs in addition to their individual commitment is exceptional and inspiring.

MVL served over 1300 clients in 2016 and over 1600 clients in 2017. MVL has five separate programs, but staff and volunteers support one another in each of the programs and work as a well-oiled machine — a true unit. Our Denver Indian Center is our only walk-in clinic. On the first Wednesday of every month, we host a clinic at the Denver Indian Center off Morrison Road. This clinic is nearly six years in the making and was established by one of our former Directors, Dianne Van Voorhees, who continues to volunteer. Although we specifically serve the Native American population in this clinic, anyone can attend. The legal issues that we encounter in this clinic are vast and unique.
Our Post Decree Program serves clients who are struggling with issues after divorce. We are proud to acknowledge that not only are we the only program in the Denver metro-area that provides this service (that we know of), but that we are giving multifaceted and critical advice. We are fortunate that our Post Decree Programs are sponsored by the Attorney General’s Office serving Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams Counties under the leadership of Leo Milan, Jr. (Senior Assistant Attorney General); and by three private firms: Pelegrin & Radeff, Polidori, Franklin, Monahan & Beattie and Smith & Cook in Jefferson County; and by Faegre Baker Daniels under the leadership of Candace Whittaker in Denver. Our post decree consultations have grown so expansively in the last two years that we now rely on the generosity of several private attorneys to host the additional Denver consultation clinics.
We also host a Family Law Court Program, allowing clients to receive our assistance through the entire pendency of their dissolution of marriage or allocation of parental responsibility cases. While our clients remain pro se, we meet with them at the beginning of the process and help them complete their necessary paperwork. MVL then keeps the files and ensures process of service where appropriate. The client then meets with MVL for Permanent Orders where an attorney represents them in court for their final hearing. We are repeatedly informed by our clients that appearing in court before a Judge without representation is an overwhelming task, and they are grateful for our presence. As a side note, the judiciary has also expressed their appreciation for our presence in the courtroom to assist these parties who would otherwise appear unrepresented. Our Family Law Court Program is a phenomenal way for attorneys who do not otherwise appear in court to receive experience and exposure to the courtroom with the gratitude of the judiciary and the support of MVL.

While a substantial part of our work is in the family law/domestic relations area, we also serve the elderly community through our Power of Attorney Workshops. Unlike most of our programs, due to the difficulties of mobility of our elderly in senior center facilities, MVL and its volunteers take the workshop to the seniors. The Power of Attorney Workshops follow a two-step process. Once we have coordinated with a senior center, MVL staff and volunteers attend the center and provide a presentation regarding end of life documents and answer questions. We then return to the center a week later and complete specific power of attorney documents for these seniors. This program is crucial in assisting a vulnerable population.
Our fifth program may be last on the list, but is certainly not the least. Through the referral program we assist clients with full pro bono representation through volunteer attorneys. The clients that we assist through our referral program often have more complicated circumstances or do not otherwise fit within our other programs. Through our referral program clients are helped with bankruptcy, landlord and tenant, social security, wills and probate, collections, and family law issues. Volunteering for this program requires more of a time commitment but inevitably is also most rewarding. We understand that some attorneys may be hesitant to assist with full representation, but we want to reassure everyone that we provide staff support, guidance, follow-up and mentoring assistance.

To conclude, there is no better calling than to help our fellow man (or woman), and as attorneys it is not only our ethical obligation but our personal duty to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. On a practical note, we provide networking, training, malpractice insurance, support, judicial support, mentors and continuing legal education credit. On a private note, there is no better personal reward or satisfaction than to use your skills and expertise to help those incapable of assisting themselves. Every penny spent to operate this program is well spent.
Our programs allow for many opportunities for you to give a small amount of time through micro-volunteering, or should you be so called, to provide full pro bono representation. Please visit our website at dba.org/mvl or our Facebook or e-mail me directly at tdasent@denbar.org.
Learn more about us by attending our only yearly fundraiser, the Barrister’s Ball on April 21st, 2018. Our theme this year is Casino Royale, and it is sure to be a fun-filled evening. To learn more about our Barrister’s Ball visit dba.org. D

 

Toni-Anne Dasent is the director of Metro Volunteer Lawyers (MVL). She assumed her responsibilities on August 15, 2016. Dasent holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Windsor, Canada. Her dedication to helping underserved populations with their civil legal matters fueled her longstanding commitment to volunteering with MVL’s Family Law Court Program and taking on individual cases in a pro bono capacity. Before becoming the MVL Director, she also volunteered extensively with the Legal Aid Society, while working in the private sector in firms dedicated to the practice of family law.

 

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