Federal Court Pro Bono Representation Helps the Community and Enhances Professional Reputation


Federal court litigation provides challenge, excitement, and reward. With the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado’s announcement of its Civil Pro Bono Panel program last summer, handling federal cases in this district has become more accessible to attorneys from all practice areas.

This much-needed program created a panel of attorneys willing to accept appointments to represent pro se litigants of limited means in civil cases. The success of the program relies on attorney participation. Numerous attorneys, law firms, and legal organizations have signed up, but the need is great. Signing up for the Civil Pro Bono Panel provides many advantages for attorneys; namely, it is good for business, and it is the right thing to do.

Pro Bono Representation Provides a Much-Needed Service

As recognized by the legal community, the Colorado Supreme Court, and Congress, providing pro bono legal representation is simply the right thing to do. Attorneys have knowledge of a complex legal system that much of the public does not know how to navigate without incurring great cost that many cannot afford. The interests of an open and just court system favor pro bono efforts.

When admitted to the bar in this state, Colorado attorneys swear to use their “knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system.” Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 prescribes, “[e]very lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” As recognized by Congress in authorizing pro bono services for the District of Columbia, “providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve best the ends of justice.” Volunteering with the Civil Pro Bono Panel satisfies these ethical obligations and provides a great benefit to our community.

Pro Bono Representation Bolsters Legal Careers

Volunteering to represent indigent clients through the Civil Pro Bono Panel is good for business. Federal court litigation experience enhances attorneys’ professional reputations. It poses unique challenges, because federal lawsuits often implicate meaningful constitutional questions and significant dollar amounts. Handling cases in federal court demonstrates an attorney’s proficiency with procedural rules and familiarity with court appearances, in addition to exhibiting substantive legal knowledge. Clients and colleagues notice, value, and reward these skills.

Attorneys’ professional reputations garner business and respect. Handling cases through the Civil Pro Bono Panel provides opportunities to demonstrate legal expertise before judges, court staff, and other attorneys. The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado’s judges unanimously approved implementation of the panel, and U.S. District Judges William J. Martínez and R. Brooke Jackson lead its efforts, which speak to its value and import. The Colorado Supreme Court publically recognizes attorneys and legal organizations that meet the aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono legal services on an annual basis. Participation with the Civil Pro Bono Panel helps attorneys gain this recognition and improve their standing in the community.

How to Sign Up for the Civil Pro Bono Panel

For more information and to sign up, please visit the website for the District of Colorado at www.cod.uscourts.gov and look for the “Pilot Projects” page under “Court Operations” and “Rules and Procedures.” In the April 2014 edition of “The Colorado Lawyer,” U.S. District Judge William J. Martínez authored an article explaining the details of the program.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado’s Civil Pro Bono Panel is user-friendly and geared to support participating attorneys. Individual attorneys and legal organizations, such as firms, corporate legal departments, or law school clinics, may join the panel. Panel members can designate how many cases they would like to take on and which types of cases they would accept. Panel members may choose to have additional co-counsel assigned to assist him or her and may request or act as a mentoring attorney.

Once a case is assigned, counsel has time to run a conflicts check, gain approval from their organization if necessary, and conduct a preliminary review. Counsel may decline an appointment if appropriate, consistent with the ethical rules and rules governing the program. Panel attorneys may earn up to 9 CLE credits for handling a case through the Civil Pro Bono Panel. Please consider signing up; joining the panel is a win-win for all involved.

By Nicole C. Salamander Irby, an attorney with the Denver office of Gordon & Rees LLP. She is a member of the Standing Committee responsible for implementing the Civil Pro Bono Panel program at the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. She may be reached at nsalamanderirby@gordonrees.com or 303-534-5160.