Attorneys in Colorado may be members of one or more bar associations. These bar associations have a wide range of objections that span geographical proximity, substantive law issues and personal characteristics. They provide their member attorneys a variety of benefits and in some cases regulate attorney practice within particular jurisdictions. In Colorado the state, local and interstate bar associations that join Colorado attorneys together are all voluntary.
Purpose of bar associations for attorneys in Colorado
Colorado attorneys join bar associations in this state voluntarily to gain the benefits of membership. These benefits differ across the bar associations to some degree although they often share more than they differ. Some common benefits of bar association membership in Colorado include:
- Organizing lawyers for social functions;
- Provide networking and mentorship opportunities;
- Assist attorneys in finding employment;
- Distributing information about courts and emerging legal issues;
- Provide continuing legal education (CLE);
- Provide the public with referrals to member attorneys; and
- Make available other public services on behalf of members.
Bar associations in Colorado organize attorneys in the state in various ways that may appeal to different groups of attorneys in the state. There is a statewide bar association, the Colorado Bar Association. The Colorado Bar Association is the broadest association in the state because it appeals to members across all areas of law. There are also bar associations organized for subdivisions within the state by county or region, such as the Denver Bar Association. Other bar associations organize lawyers by personal traits, such as womens’ bar associations, or by substantive areas of law, such as the Colorado Plaintiffs Employment Lawyers Association, which organizes employee-side employment law attorneys. Still others assemble attorneys through a combination of traits, such as by location and substantive law areas.
Bar association versus bar admission
An important distinction lies in admission to a bar and membership in a bar association. A bar association is an organization of lawyers operated by lawyers. A bar is the assembly of lawyers admitted to practice law within a jurisdiction that is overseen by the courts of that jurisdiction. An attorney may be admitted to practice law in a jurisdiction without joining that jurisdiction’s primary bar association–depending upon the rules of that jurisdiction.
Admission to the bar subjects the attorney to the rules of the jurisdiction’s bar which often include ethics rules and disciplinary rules for its violation. For state bars, an annual fee is often due to maintain a license to practice law. Voluntary bar associations may admonish members but cannot constrain an attorney’s ability to practice law in the same way a state bar or other jurisdictional bar may.
In some states there is no distinction between the two entities. This is often referred to as an “integrated bar”. The state bar is both admission to practice law and an association that provides the typical services of a bar association. In these states admission to the bar automatically enrolls the attorney in the state bar association. For example, in Texas the State Bar of Texas is integrated so admission to the state bar automatically enrolls attorneys in the state bar association as a unitary entity. The state bar is an agency of the state judiciary and has direct oversight by the state supreme court. It can discipline attorneys and collects mandatory dues while also providing services like CLEs and networking opportunities.
Colorado Bar Association membership requirements for attorneys
In Colorado, however, the state bar association is voluntary and distinct from admission to the state bar. Admission to the Colorado bar is overseen by the state judiciary which performs disciplinary duties, records dues payments and CLE completion. Submitting to the oversight of the Colorado judiciary is a requirement of admission to the state bar. The Colorado Bar Association is a voluntary organization not overseen by the state judiciary. It has no power to enforce the attorney ethics rules of the state or grant admission to the state bar. Attorneys in Denver and other parts of Colorado are free to decline membership in the Colorado Bar Association.
Colorado attorneys might choose to join the Colorado Bar Association to gain the benefits of voluntary membership although it is not mandatory. As discussed above, attorney members gain various benefits through membership in the CBA. Some of these benefits relate to mandatory attorney requirements, like fulfilling continuing legal education requirements. Others offer business, career, or personal benefits much like other trade associations in other industries. Let’s discuss more about the Colorado Bar Association.
Colorado Bar Association
The Colorado Bar Association is the largest and broadest attorney bar association in the state. The CBA is a state-wide voluntary bar association for attorneys in Colorado. As a state-wide association it provides opportunities for lawyers across the state in many practice areas and interests. It offers attorneys law sections that deal with specific areas of law like family law and employment law. Attorneys can also find committees dealing with legal issues and law firm issues. So although it is a large and broad organization it provides more specific opportunities for Colorado lawyers.
Attorneys can also find a variety of other services through the Colorado Bar Association such as:
- Continuing legal education;
- Networking events;
- Social events;
- Discounts on personal and business services;
- Job board for career advancement;
- Legal research; and
- Referral system for individuals searching for a lawyer.
The CBA also publishes The Colorado Lawyer, a law review dealing with state issues. The bar association began publishing the review in 1972.
The Colorado Bar Association is considered the second oldest bar association in the state, founded in 1897. The oldest bar association in Colorado is believed to be a small association of lawyers in Weld County formed in 1870. Today governance over the bar association is a twenty-one member board of twenty elected governors and the executive director appointed by the remainder of the board.
Other bar associations in Colorado
Across Colorado attorneys can find a wide range of other bar associations. Some bar associations are national or regional, such as the American Bar Association. Others are national networks with state or local affiliates, such as PELA, which is the state affiliate of the National Employment Lawyers Association. Still others provide attorneys an opportunity to associate with attorneys within a geographical subset of the state, specific law areas in the state, or traits of the member attorneys.
Lawyers join bar associations voluntarily for various reasons. These organizations often provide career opportunities and a convenient way to receive current information for the practice areas in which the lawyer works. Many bar associations advance particular causes on behalf of members, whether it is for the members themselves or on behalf of particular positions in areas of law that may benefit their clients. For example, PELA and other NELA affiliates often work to advance employee-side employment law issues. That often helps the clients of employee-side employment lawyers. Those employment lawyers may not directly benefit personally from the work of that association but it assists their clients and the work they perform.