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The Ever Changing Face of The Law

Early On

In the 1800s, there were nine different buildings that served as temporary El Paso County court houses. A permanent structure was started in 1899 and completed in 1903 and is now known as the Colorado Springs Pioneer’s Museum. Matt Mayberry, cultural services director for the City of Colorado Springs and director of the Pioneer’s Museum, says the building originally housed county offices, the sheriff’s office and the country clerk and recorder, as well as hosting its share of sensational trials.

“This served as a public building,” Mayberry says. “It was the gathering place for all criminal and civil activity so there were certainly some historic cases that took place here.”

Mayberry says one of the courtrooms was designed to hold nearly 200 people and had a special area for the media to be able to cover the more significant trials. “During prohibition there were lots of trials for people making bathtub gin,” Mayberry says. “There was mafia activity – people running alcohol between Pueblo and Denver. The trials were a method of entertainment for the public.”

Fast Forward

Just 30 years later Colorado attorneys could rub elbows with about 2,700 of their closest colleagues. Everyone was a general practitioner and camaraderie was high.  With 25,000 attorneys active in the state today, coupled with environmental and economic strains, the profession has changed dramatically.

Retired Colorado Springs attorney Gerry Tolley was setting up shop in 1963.  “As a young lawyer on your own, you had to take on everything to support your family,” Tolley says. “Unless you had a special arrangement, most lawyers started out this way. And then as you practiced you would realize what areas you were best in. It made better lawyers out of all of us.”

Tolley says it was common for two or three attorneys to share space and then merge with another firm to increase litigation capability. Firms were able to handle broader areas and become more sophisticated which improved the profession as a whole.
Estate planning, corporate law and real estate development law were prevalent early in his career. As the city progressed, water, intellectual property and mineral rights law became more common, key indicators that specialization was on the rise.

Jim Coyle, chief deputy regulation counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation, says specialization is simply common now. “Everyone has a niche,” Coyle says. “There are even micro-specialties as attorneys have honed their skills.”
But Coyle says the necessity to practice law in a multi-state area is a more significant challenge, one that is being driven by the global economy. “The whole practice of law has changed. Companies with multi-state operations are driving the need for attorneys to be able to practice out of the state they are licensed in,” Coyle says. “You could have a national practice but be based in Denver or Colorado Springs.”
Although Colorado has reciprocity with 37 other states allowing for flexibility, regulators are looking at other models for licensing lawyers including greater recognition of other state law licenses, which would closely mimic the practice of law in Europe, according to Coyle.

For the People

The El Paso County Bar Association has been the framework of the legal Community in Colorado Springs since 1902.  The bar has grown from roughly 400 members in the early 1980s to nearly 1,100 members today. Their mission is to serve the membership and the community at large while also providing legal service to those who cannot afford to retain them.
HayDen Kane, president, says as of late the calling of its membership has hit very close to home. While no-cost assistance is on the rise, foreclosure law as well as legal issues surrounding the Waldo Canyon Fire are top of mind.
Foreclosure has been a main topic over the past two years. In fact the association has had a special committee in place specifically to help with foreclosure law and related themes. They agreed to leave the committee in place for an additional year or two based on demand. “There is a feeling we might have a second wave of foreclosures,” Kane says. “The concern is the commercial side might fall next and there is speculation that there could be a wave of investor-owned properties.”

Additionally, no one could have foreseen the Waldo Canyon Fire. Kane says it was an eye-opener for the association because it presented major legal issues surrounding insurance claims, homeowner’s association challenges and decisions to rebuild or relocate. People are struggling with being able to account for lost inventory and verifying sworn proof of loss. But Kane says it also brought the legal community together to help. A special Ask-A-Lawyer session for Waldo Canyon Fire victims drew 52 victims seeking help from 15 volunteer attorneys. “It was as satisfying an Ask-A-Lawyer session as I’ve ever done,” Kane says. “These people really needed help.”

And he says the need for pro bono work is up. “Why else are we here other than to serve our membership and help the community,” Kane says. “People who need divorce or family law counsel are going without attorneys and that just puts stress on the court system. It’s really taking its toll on the legal community.”

Kane says there is concern statewide that funding for pro bono service will dry up and that’s a problem. “The doors are starting to shut around the state but I won’t let that happen in Colorado Springs,” he says. “As a bar, providing legal services to the indigent has to be a top calling.”

Future Challenges

And while technology is driving every profession to the next level these days, Municipal Court Judge Sue Grant worries that it could be a detriment to our legal community. “This is no longer a face-to-face practice,” Grant says. “We used to have conferences and depositions but today, litigators are stuck in their offices.”
Grant says young lawyers and experienced alike need that socialization and mentorship. “Fighting for someone can be draining and often negative,” she says. “It’s critical for lawyers to work together and have that personal connection.”
Kane believes the Colorado Springs legal community has worked hard to keep that camaraderie alive and well. “We have an outstanding bar and excellent firms in Colorado Springs,” he says. “And more importantly, we understand the importance of picking up the phone and talking with each other.”