October 21, 2014

Rule Change Gives Students More Opportunities for Pro Bono Service

Editor’s Note: Pro Bono Week is October 24-28, 2011. In anticipation, CBA-CLE Legal Connection will run weekly articles this month to highlight local pro bono efforts and opportunities. At the end of the month, the Denver Bar Association has put together several days of events and parties for Pro Bono week, to recognize and celebrate the commitment to pro bono client services. Click here for more information.

Recent changes to Colorado’s Student Practice Act have expanded the qualifications for supervising lawyers who work with law students in pro bono cases, allowing students to get more in-court training and expanding attorneys’ ability to volunteer.

Colorado’s Student Practice Act allows currently enrolled second- and third-year law students acting under a qualified attorney’s supervision to draft motions, prepare pleadings, and enter appearances on behalf of consenting clients for civil, administrative, and certain criminal cases. By creating opportunities for hands-on litigation experience, the statute provides law students a meaningful way to learn through exposure to complex procedural issues and common practice strategies that are difficult to teach in a traditional classroom setting.

Before the rule change, law students could operate under the student practice rules only if they worked for an attorney in the public sector, such as the Public Defender’s or District Attorney’s offices, or if they were enrolled in a law school clinical program. The former rule prevented private attorneys working in a temporary or voluntary capacity from supervising a student’s court appearance and restricted the type of work a student could do for pro bono organizations such as Metro Volunteer Lawyers, which relies largely if not exclusively on volunteers’ time and efforts to serve indigent clients.

Law students who have completed at least two years of law school may appear in district, county, and municipal court, according to CRS § 12-5-116. Students must file certification from the dean or registrar of the law school confirming that they have completed two years of law school and are of good moral character. The Office of Attorney Registration provides the form for the dean’s certification. Students also must provide the name of the supervising attorney they will be working with.

A team of collaborators that included MVL staff and board members, professors, administrators at both University of Colorado and University of Denver law schools, and the Office of Attorney Regulation worked together to develop the proposed revision to the Student Practice Rules. In response to these efforts, the Supreme Court has adopted its revised Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 226.5. The new Student Practice Rule, which has been effective since July 16, is more permissive regarding qualifications for supervising attorneys in that a supervising lawyer must now work for or on behalf of a public sector or nonprofit organization. This language allows private attorneys to serve as supervisory lawyers to law students who work with them on a pro bono case, so long as the case is referred to the law student and supervising attorney by a qualified legal services provider, such as MVL.

Under the new rule, students may offer legal services under the supervision of private attorneys volunteering on behalf of legal services organizations. Further, it increases the level of interaction between law students and practicing attorneys, benefiting both.  The new rule allows attorneys to ask for and expect more from the students they supervise, and acquaints students with more relevant issues in more varied fields of law.

By permitting law students to work with private attorneys on different types of pro bono cases, the new rule teaches students how to address and respond to the substantive and procedural challenges of a case through real-world exposure, and affords them opportunities to work with private attorneys practicing in legal fields that were beyond the scope of the old rule. Colorado’s new Student Practice Rule benefits the state’s legal system as a whole by expanding volunteers’ and private attorneys’ work with law school students to produce better-prepared young lawyers who leave school confident and ready to practice.

Matthew Foster is a third-year student at the University of Colorado School of Law and a student volunteer with Metro Volunteer Lawyers.

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