January 19, 2019

The Barristers Benefit Ball: What is it Funding?

This post originally appeared in the March 2014 edition of The Docket, the publication of the Denver Bar Association. 

Click here to see an infograph regarding the impact of Metro Volunteer Lawyers.

The Barristers Benefit Ball comes every spring. This year’s event, themed “Talk Derby to Me,” is sure to be a night to remember! If you haven’t been before, or are wondering what it’s all about—and why this enormous fundraising effort takes place every year—read on.

The DBA supports Metro Volunteer Lawyers as its pro bono program. Its mission is “To bridge the gap in access to justice by coordinating the provision of pro bono legal services by volunteer lawyers within the Denver Metro Area to people who could not otherwise afford legal services for their civil legal issues.”

The Barristers Benefit Ball is the biggest annual fundraiser to benefit MVL—a vital portion of our annual funding. MVL is also supported by the Henry Hall Memorial Golf Tournament, Colorado Legal Services, the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation, the Fred & Jean Allegretti Foundation, Lois Ann Rovira in honor of her husband, former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Luis Rovira, and private donations.

The following table shows major contributors and amounts contributed during the last fiscal year:

BBB-chart

MVL’s Current Programs

There are six programs within MVL that provide our clients free and low-cost legal services: Direct Referrals to individual attorneys for representation, the Family Law Court Program, the Post-Decree clinics, the Rovira Scholar, the legal clinic at the Denver Indian Center, and the Clinical Adoption Program. Following are more details on these programs that rely on your fundraising.

Direct Referrals

MVL recruits and coordinates volunteer attorneys to represent people who otherwise could not afford legal assistance. CLS handles the initial client intake process and then sends selected cases to MVL for referral. Once a potential client has completed intake, the Legal Services Coordinator reviews the file and begins contacting volunteer attorneys to try to place the case.

Family Law Court Program

The vast majority of the clients served by MVL need assistance with their domestic relations cases. We coordinate and manage monthly FLCP clinics in Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties. The FLCP assists clients with relatively uncomplicated, “uncontested” divorce or custody matters where the other party is not represented by an attorney.

Post-Decree Clinics

MVL coordinates and manages Post-Decree Clinics for domestic relations cases in Denver and Jefferson Counties. The Post-Decree Clinics assist individuals with legal problems that arise after Permanent Orders have been entered in a Dissolution of Marriage (divorce) or Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (custody) case.

MVL collaborates with the following volunteer firms who sponsor and staff our Post-decree Clinics: Faegre, Baker, Daniels LLP, Holland & Hart LLP, Pelegrin Radeff & Frazer-Abel, PC, Polidori, Franklin & Monahan, LLC, and the Colorado Office of the Attorney General.

Rovira Scholar Fellowship

The Rovira Scholar Fellowship was made possible by a generous gift from Lois Ann Rovira, wife of former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Luis Rovira. The goal of the Fellowship is to enhance the overall understanding of the complex and unique legal challenges presented in pro bono public service through the early training and professional development of outstanding law school graduates. This position, designed for a recent law graduate, permits MVL to increase critical legal services to those in need.

Legal Clinic at the Denver Indian Center

MVL works with the Denver Indian Center to provide a walk-in clinic each month. The project was initiated by two Native American attorneys: MVL Executive Director Dianne Van Voorhees and Board Member Danielle L. Demkowicz. The Clinic meets in the Denver Indian Center in Lakewood, on the first Wednesday of every month. MVL sponsors and coordinates volunteers.

Clinical Adoption Program

In an effort to meet the rising demand of adoption cases coming through our office, past Rovira Scholar Sarah Zoellner created an adoption program to meet the following goals: reduce the number of volunteer hours required of our volunteer attorneys; enable our office to more efficiently process the larger number of adoption cases; and provide support for our volunteer attorneys so we can provide the highest quality of legal service to our clients.

Your Contribution Matters

Expanding our program, studying new ways to operate and provide services is an ongoing and satisfying endeavor. We are especially proud to have had the Colorado Attorney General’s Office become our latest sponsor firm as of Fall 2013. Thanks to our new collaboration, MVL has added two additional Post-Decree Clinics to our schedule each month.

Unfortunately, MVL is also anticipating significant, if not total, loss of COLTAF funds due to the consistent lack of growth or replenishment of the fund. The overall shrinking of funds for CLS impacts all of us, and the resulting shortfall of funds for pro bono programs that serve as an additional safety net to those unable to be served by CLS only adds to the crisis. The complete loss of COLTAF funding would possibly prevent MVL from additional expansions of existing programs. Given this impending likelihood, any increase in the per capita contributions from our local bar associations, private funders, and Barristers Benefit Ball sponsors and attendees is welcome.

The MVL staff is a small team that works together with our volunteers and interns to ensure that we are in touch with our partners and the legal community at large. In 2012, we had 455 volunteer attorneys and 33 nonattorneys (law students, paralegals, etc.) handle 1,448 cases and assist several clinical clients. MVL also successfully recruited 165 new volunteer attorneys to our existing panel. The majority of cases are domestic relations matters. Other case types include consumer, bankruptcy, landlord tenant, real estate, wills/POA, guardianships, conservatorships, probate, and tax issues. Without our donors and our volunteers who give their money, time, and skill, we could not have helped so many people in need.

The funds raised through the Barristers Benefit Ball help MVL maintain its staff and pay its operating expenses, both of which are vital to sustaining and expanding its capacity to serve our community.

MVL is always recruiting more attorneys who practice in the Denver Metro area to join our volunteer panel. By providing much needed pro bono legal services, MVL’s volunteer lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals provide access to justice and help stabilize families, save taxpayers money, reduce the number of cases clogging the courts, and help people move toward self-sufficiency and full participation in society.

By Dianne Van Voorhees, the Executive Director of Metro Volunteer Lawyers. You can contact her at diannev@denbar.org.

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