Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

Pro Bono Legal Clinics

The following information, along with the Justice For All video, is a collaborative project created by representatives from the Colorado Access to Justice Commission, the Denver Bar Association-Access to Justice Committee and the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. This information is provided as informal guidance only, and is not in any way binding on the Colorado Supreme Court or its Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.

Justice For All

Pro Bono Representation - FAQs

Are lawyers required to provide pro bono representation?

The Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct do not require lawyers to provide pro bono representation. However, Colo. RPC 6.1 Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service states, “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” The Rule further explains, “A lawyer should aspire to render at least fifty hours of pro bono public legal services per year.” Importantly, both the Colorado Attorney Oath of Admission and the Preamble to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct recognize and encourage lawyers to participate in pro bono representation.

The Colorado Attorney Oath of Admission provides: I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR…OR AFFIRM... I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Colorado; I will maintain the respect due to Courts and judicial officers; I will employ only such means as are consistent with truth and honor; I will treat all persons whom I encounter through my practice of law with fairness, courtesy, respect and honesty; I will use my knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system; I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed; I will at all times faithfully and diligently adhere to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. (emphasis added)

The Preamble and Scope to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct provides at paragraph 6: “A lawyer should be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice and of the fact that the poor, and sometimes persons who are not poor, cannot afford adequate legal assistance. Therefore, all lawyers should devote professional time and resources and use civic influence to ensure equal access to our system of justice for all those who because of economic or social barriers cannot afford or secure adequate legal counsel.”

One way to provide pro bono representation is through legal clinics. Generally, in these settings, a lawyer will meet with multiple clients during the clinic and have a brief attorney-client relationship with each client. Colo. RPC 1.2(c) authorizes this type of limited representation

Do all of the Rules of Professional Conduct apply in a clinic setting?

The Rules of Professional Conduct apply to attorney-client relationships, even when the representation is limited in scope or duration of time, or provided at no cost. However, for clinics, the application of the conflicts rules is limited as explained further in Colo. RPC 6.5 Nonprofit and Court-annexed Limited Legal Services Programs. Specifically, Rule 6.5 provides that Colo. RPCs 1.7, 1.9 and 1.10 do not apply unless a lawyer knows the representation of the client will create a conflict of interest. Thus, a lawyer is not expected to do a conflicts check while participating in a clinic setting. Moreover, a number of the Rules will not be applicable in light of the fact the limited representation is done at no charge and is completed during the course of the clinic. See, e.g., Colo. RPC 1.2(c) and Comment 7.

I’ve attended some clinics that are “information-only”. Are those clinics considered pro bono clinics?

Generally, providing information about legal processes only is not considered the practice of law. As lawyers, we are authorized and, in fact, encouraged to do more. Colo. RPC 1.2(c) authorizes a limited attorney-client relationship, and Colo. RPC 6.1 and Colo. RPC 6.5 specifically envision the provision of legal services. Because legal advice (not just information) to the clinic attendee will likely be the most beneficial to the attendee, lawyers are encouraged to participate as often as possible in legal advice clinics.

I want to host a pro bono clinic for my community. What ethical issues should I be aware of?

First, Colo. RPC 6.1 and Colo. RPC 1.2(c) permit lawyers to provide limited representation in a clinic setting. Thus, lawyers are authorized to enter into a short-term representation for the duration of the clinic. To ensure the clients at the clinic understand the limited scope arrangement, the best practice is to provide a written statement at the outset to each clinic attendee advising the attendee of the following:

-That the clinic will provide the client a meeting with a lawyer, free of charge;
-That this will create a limited attorney-client relationship;
-That the lawyer will provide legal advice, if appropriate;
-That the limited representation will conclude at the end of the clinic.

Additionally, as the organizer, you may wish to review a guidance letter previously provided by the CBA Ethics Committee on the subject of referrals from pro bono clinics. Click here to view a copy of this letter.

What about malpractice coverage for clinics?

Malpractice insurance coverage may be provided to lawyers who perform pro bono legal services at legal clinics in several ways.

First, many or most pro bono legal clinic programs in Colorado provide attorneys professional liability coverage to their volunteer lawyers, including lawyers in firms, solo practitioners, in-house counsel, and government attorneys. If you are unsure whether a program you are considering has such coverage, ask one of the people running the program.

Second, most law firms and solo practitioners maintain professional liability insurance, and most such policies likely cover pro bono activities undertaken by attorneys in the firm. See ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability, Pro Bono Work and Malpractice Coverage: A Guide for the Pro Bono Attorney (2013) at pgs. 1-2.

Similarly, many corporate law departments have employed lawyer malpractice policies. See id. at 3. If you have any question about the existence and applicability of such coverage to the pro bono services you are considering, ask the partner in your law firm coordinating pro bono matters, the partner responsible for professional liability coverage, or the individual in your law department responsible for such matters. They in turn may wish to consult the firm’s or department’s professional liability broker or carrier.

Third, if you are interested in starting a legal clinic in your community, you can procure a professional liability policy for participants in that program. As a starting place, you can contact the Colorado Bar Association’s endorsed professional liability coverage broker and direct carrier. See also the ABA Guide cited above at pg. 5.

So, malpractice coverage should not present a barrier to you participating as a volunteer lawyer in pro bono legal clinics!

I’m interested in volunteering at a legal clinic. How do I get involved?

For more information about opportunities, contact your local access to justice committee or bar association.

Contact information for Colorado Access to Justice Committees can be found here.

Opportunities for pro bono work can also be found on the Colorado Bar Association website.

For clinic opportunities, resources and other pro bono opportunities, visit Succession to Service.

For further information regarding limited scope representation, see the following resources: