Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program Helps Attorneys Increase Access to Justice
IAALS has long focused on increasing access to justice by helping courts develop policies and procedures to make civil litigation more efficient and less expensive. But it’s not just courts and judges that can improve access to justice—attorneys too can take steps to refine their practices to help bridge the justice gap.
Last October, Colorado debuted a program to help lawyers “see what is working and what could be improved when it comes to law firm management and meeting professional obligations.” The Colorado Lawyer Self-Assessment Program comprises surveys in ten areas for attorneys to evaluate how well they are complying with various rules of professional conduct, such as developing a competent practice, communicating with clients, and managing files and fees. Attorneys’ answers are confidential so that they can honestly assess their practices. The program is part of a growing movement, led by Colorado and Illinois, to develop proactive management-based attorney regulation systems. On June 28, 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court codified this program in Rule 256 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.
One of the ten survey areas in Colorado’s Self-Assessment Program focuses on access to justice. “One of the most significant issues currently facing consumers of legal services is meaningful access to justice,” the program states, and “law firms and other for-profit legal organizations [must] look inward at what they might do themselves to better meet their obligations to promote and protect the public interest.”
The program asks lawyers to evaluate whether their practice is structured in a manner that facilitates access to justice, focused on six objectives:
- Reducing overhead expenses, and therefore reducing fees for clients;
- Creating an office set-up that welcomes clients from diverse backgrounds, including those who have difficulty traveling to an office during regular business hours;
- Implementing alternative billing arrangements to take on clients who otherwise would be unable to afford an attorney;
- Providing pro-bono and other volunteer services;
- Developing a marketing strategy to reach non-traditional legal consumers; and
- Continually evaluating how well they reach out to underserved populations, and monitoring how clients feel that they have been treated by the legal system.
Taking the survey does more than help attorneys evaluate whether they are facilitating access to justice—the survey supplies lawyers with 20 best practices they can adopt to increase access to justice. The survey also links attorneys to a number of resources to learn more about many of these practices.
Note: While any attorney can benefit from reviewing the survey and thinking about ways to improve their own practice, attorneys outside of Colorado should not generate a report by finishing the last section online.