Multidisciplinary Law Office Project Overview

Multidisciplinary Law Offices (MDLO) are an innovative way of providing best interests representation to children involved in juvenile court proceedings in Colorado’s 2nd and 18th judicial districts.  Each child represented by an MDLO office is assigned a multidisciplinary team, which includes both an attorney GAL and a social services professional who works under the attorney and assists with the investigation, building rapport with the child, and identifying the needs of the child and his or her family.

In conjunction with the adoption of a multidisciplinary team approach, the OCR established new specific requirements for office structure and attorney performance to promote a more innovative and efficient guardian ad litem (GAL) practice and to produce better outcomes for children.   The MDLO offices provide training, supervision, and accountability.  Case consultation occurs on a regular basis, creating an ideal setting for lawyers new to this complex area of law to receive guidance and mentorship from their more experienced colleagues.  The offices have also established an institutional presence in the communities they serve.

 

MDLO Office Timeline

Please read below for a historical overview of multidisciplinary law offices in Colorado.

The creation of the El Paso County GAL Office as the Fourth Judicial District Pilot Project was in direct response to Senate Bill 99-215 (Long Appropriations Bill), Footnote 135, which directed the Judicial Department to pilot alternative methods of providing GAL services.  The model employs 13 attorneys and five case coordinators.  The case coordinators are social service professionals, and they supplement the attorney services by providing, for example, analyses of treatment needs, meaningful participation in case staffings, communication with treatment providers and observation of parent/child visits.  Each of the employees at this office is a full time employee of the OCR.

In 2003, the General Assembly instructed the OCR in SB 03-258, Footnote 118, to study alternative methods of providing GAL services in dependency & neglect cases.  Specifically, the General Assembly instructed the OCR to explore whether it could implement a multidisciplinary office in Denver similar to the OCR El Paso County GAL Office, employing both attorneys and professionals with social work or related backgrounds.

For several years, the OCR explored how to best pursue a pilot multidisciplinary GAL office in Denver.  Initial start-up costs posed a barrier; while the ongoing use of multidisciplinary offices may ultimately be more cost-effective and cost-stabilizing than individual attorney contracts, the initial costs of establishing such offices are significant.  Additionally, given the state’s ongoing budget challenges, establishing a system that would require additional full time employees was not feasible.

In early 2010, the OCR determined that a Request for Proposal (RFP) process for establishing multidisciplinary law offices was the best means for implementing the legislature’s request.  In May 2010, the OCR issued RFPs for the creation of offices in Denver and Arapahoe counties.

The OCR hypothesized that MDLOs would enhance GAL representation in Colorado by employing and training new attorneys interested in becoming GALs, establishing an institutional presence in the courtrooms and courthouses in which they serve, and engaging in more contact with the children whose best interests they are appointed to represent.  The pilot project would also allow the OCR to assess the effectiveness of various models of legal service provision pursuant to its legislative mandate as the OCR now employs three unique models:  contracts with private attorneys; a multidisciplinary state-employee GAL office in El Paso County; and contracts with private entities to provide multidisciplinary services.

The OCR ultimately entered into contracts with three entities to serve as pilot multidisciplinary offices. The three offices include:

Bettenberg, Sharshel & Maguire | Centennial, CO | 18th Judicial District

Radley & Southerland |Denver, CO | 2nd Judicial District

Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center | Denver, CO | 2nd Judicial District

The MDLOs operate under a 36-month pilot period, January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2013.

In August 2012, the OCR partnered with the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work to evaluate the effectiveness of the multidisciplinary law office as a model of delivering legal services to children in juvenile court proceedings.  The evaluation specifically focused on understanding how the MLDOs function and whether this service delivery model has enhanced GAL practice in Arapahoe, Denver, and El Paso counties.

The evaluation was designed to enable the OCR to compare its attorney service models in terms of time spent in contact with children, in the courtroom, and on independent investigation.  It was anticipated that OCR could also compare the different models using outcome measures such as average number of placements throughout the life of a case and average length of case.

The evaluation included both process evaluation questions (how the model functions and what it looks like) as well as outcome evaluation questions (the effects associated with this model).

For example:

How do Multidisciplinary Law Offices function?

How are services delivered using the Multidisciplinary Law Office model?

Are youth engaged in the process and given voice?

Is the Multidisciplinary Law Office model associated with increased youth well-being?

Is the Multidisciplinary Law Office model associated with increased permanency and safety for youth?

Sample

The OCR generated a list of all dependency and neglect cases filed in Fiscal Year 2012 (July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2012) in the six study counties and randomly selected 600 cases; 100 from each study county. OCR identified the oldest child on each case and created a case sample list that included the county, case number, oldest child’s date of birth, and GAL of record.

 

Data Analysis

Quantitative analyses were conducted utilizing SPSS (statistical package for the social sciences) software.  SPSS describe data (averages, frequencies) and compare groups (t tests and ANOVAs).   Qualitative analysis took place in a two-step process.  Students initially created codes based on lines of data and then organized codes into patterns and themes to report.

 

Results

Initial results indicate that MDLO legal services cost less at their flat fee than if the offices had been paid for the same hours at the $65 hourly rate for individual contract attorneys. OCR must conduct further analysis to determine how the time is spent and whether the increased time is benefiting children.

This Evaluation serves as a starting point for future examination of multidisciplinary practice. While the OCR recognizes that the evaluation did not result in findings that there are statistically significant benefits to the model, it has also taken into consideration the short duration of the pilot project. The MDLOs began operating in March 2011, and it is difficult to assess outcomes in this short time period. The OCR has decided to continue with the current MDLOs to allow for further assessment and evaluation. The model, however, will not be expanded at this time.

Click the links below to access the Office of the Child’s Representative’s March 2017 Evaluation of Multidisciplinary Law Office Pilot Project report.

Evaluation of Multidisciplinary Law Office Pilot Project: Full Report

Executive Summary

Appendix A

Appendix B

 

Additional Information on Colorado’s Multidisciplinary Law Offices

The pilot was designed for representation to begin with the appointment of the GAL in a dependency & neglect or delinquency case and continue through all court proceedings.  Representation includes attending administrative proceedings and meetings related to the child’s well-being, which are held pursuant to the policies and regulations of the relevant county and/or the State of Colorado.

The RFP identified the following as OCR’s goals and objectives for the multidisciplinary law offices:

To provide a more efficient and effective means to deliver legal services;

To ensure children receive best interests legal representation consistent with the OCR’s Performance Requirements as set forth in Section IV (Statement of Work);

To ensure the use of a multidisciplinary service model, including attorneys, social workers or other social service professionals, and support staff;

To establish an institutional presence within the jurisdiction;

To enhance accountability through internal supervision, training, case and file management, and data collection;

To ensure continuity of representation through final case resolution, including filing of a notice of appeal of a final order if necessary;

To increase the amount of out-of-court time spent on cases; and

To assess a different model for providing best interest representation to children in juvenile matters in juvenile court.

 

Enhanced Performance Requirements

The Colorado Chief Justice Directive (CJD) 04-06 outlines the authority and responsibility of the OCR and duties of guardians ad litem.  The Performance Requirements state that each office must comply with the requirements of the CJD and provides additional attorney requirements include structuring cases to follow Cornerstone Advocacy principles and increased contact with children. Enhanced contact requirements were created to support the establishment of a trusting, age appropriate relationship between the child and his/her multidisciplinary team (GAL and social service provider).  Requirements include meaningful face-to-face visits with the child at least once every 90 days.  Additionally, the assigned attorney must visit the child at the child’s residence within 30 days of each new placement and the Child’s Team is directed to promote youth participation in meetings and court hearings.

Potential cost savings and stabilizing costs are significant draws of the multidisciplinary model.  The MDLOs each submitted a budget that covers all operating costs (salaries, mileage, training, etc.). Independent contractor GALs are compensated at $65 per hour and can bill for a paralegal or social worker at $25 per hour. Since the inception of the model, OCR has reviewed MDLO time entries on a quarterly basis and compares the time spent on cases to the time billed by independent contractors.  The MDLOs consistently spend more time on each case type, as the work is conducted by the Child’s Team (comprised of attorneys and social service professionals), and the hours per care are less expensive than if an independent contract attorney was putting in the same number of hours per case.  For example, on average an Independent Contractor spends 20.69 hours on a dependency and neglect case that does not involve expedited permanency plan guidelines.   By comparison, the MDLOs spend on average 31.26 on this case type.  The division of work between attorneys and social workers appears to be distributed fairly evenly across the offices, on average attorney hours constitute 73.66% of time entered on an activity and social worker hours constitute 26.33% of time input.  The MDLOs range from 71.8% attorney time to 76.9% attorney time.

Case costs often fluctuate from judicial district to judicial district and from year to year.  Various factors impact case costs in a judicial district, such as case filings, implementation of new programs, or attorney schedules.  Additionally, expenses often vary annually and regionally.  For example, mileage is a more significant percentage of expenses in rural areas where greater distance is traveled.  Entering into annual contracts with MDLOs has proved to be an effective way of predicting and controlling costs in those districts.

 

Additional Resources

ABA 2013 Paper – An Evaluation of Multidisciplinary Law Offices in Colorado

Multidisciplinary Representation of Children

Professional Ethics in Multidisciplinary Collaboratives

The Moral and Ethical Considerations Presented by a Lawyer/Social Worker Interdisciplinary

Child Welfare Law Office Guidebook