Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Colorado collaboration unique in nation
The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program and the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel have developed an unusual relationship around a shared goal – helping lawyers be better lawyers.
By JAMES CARLSON
In many states, staff for the lawyer assistance program won’t be seen in the same room with regulatory counsel. In Colorado, the two offices take road trips together.
The wall of confidentiality surrounding the Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program is impenetrable, but the office still collaborates with the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel to protect and promote the public interest. It’s not a common setup, said Barbara Ezyk, Executive Director of COLAP.
Ezyk was at a conference recently when her counterpart from another state told Ezyk how impressed she was with how COLAP and the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel work together.
“We’re better together,” Ezyk likes to say.
The relationship between the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, COLAP, and to an extent the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program, is due both to the unique structure of Colorado’s regulatory bodies and its still-rare culture of regulating holistically.
In many other states, there is one office for admissions, one for registration, one for the client protection fund, one for discipline, and one for wellness. And often they’re each housed under different bodies, some under the authority of the courts, some under the state’s bar association.
In Colorado, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel oversees admissions, registration, discipline and continuing legal and judicial education. The Office, along with COLAP and CAMP, are all under the umbrella of the Supreme Court.
“If your only role is to discipline people, then the lawyer assistance programs aren’t part of your daily function,” said Jim Coyle, Attorney Regulation Counsel. “In Colorado, we take a more holistic approach to regulating the practice of law and, in the end, promoting the public interest.”
Ezyk adds that COLAP, CAMP and the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel actually sit down to hammer out their budgets together.
“If you’re from a state where you have different bosses and different sources of funding, there might not be that shared interest.”
He and Ezyk also often hit the road together to present to legal groups. The two tell attorneys how their offices complement each other. You can’t just slap people on the wrist, you’ve got to be proactive, as well. Ezyk said they’re breaking down the traditional barriers between lawyer assistance programs and regulatory counsel.
Still, one of the first things out of their mouths at their joint presentations is, “We are separate.” Ezyk has picked up calls from attorneys in need while she and Coyle were driving back from a presentation. She makes him stop and get out of the car before she will talk.
While Ezyk cannot share anything with Coyle’s office, Coyle does share with COLAP. Before COLAP existed, when Coyle got a call about an attorney struggling with drugs or a mental health issue, he would scramble to address the problem himself. Now he can call COLAP.
“I’m authorized under the rules to do whatever I can to promote the public interest,” he said.
The Colorado Supreme Court has been instrumental in that goal. In April, the Court adopted its regulatory objectives, including, “Helping lawyers throughout the stages of their careers successfully navigate the practice of law and thus better serve their clients.”
The collaboration continues to grow. The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel and COLAP are key voices on the Proactive Management Based Regulation Subcommittee that is studying how to implement a risk-assessment tool aimed at solo and small firm practitioners.
“Our Court has challenged us to look at new ways to proactively help lawyers be better lawyers, better serve their clients and better serve the public,” Coyle said.
James Carlson is the Information Resources Coordinator for the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.