Colorado Bar Association Continuing Legal Education celebrated its 50th anniversary Thursday with a reception at the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center. The event honored the impact the educational nonprofit has had in Colorado over the last half century and four awards were given to attorneys and CBA CLE leadership to honor their impact.
The June 15 event brought in over 75 attendees for a reception and speeches from CBA CLE leaders and prominent members of the Colorado bar. This year, CBA CLE will celebrate its 52nd anniversary but the organization delayed its 50th anniversary celebration due to COVID-19.
CBA CLE is the educational arm of CBA and the Denver Bar Association. It was founded in 1971, several years before Colorado created mandatory CLE requirements in 1979, to consolidate legal education for attorneys in the state by offering courses and publications on practicing law in Colorado. CBA CLE’s content and programs are created by attorney volunteers.
CBA CLE estimates it hosts between 150-175 education programs each year, including conferences, practice updates and more. In 2022, the organization had 13,185 registered attendees for its programs. The organization also produces and updates about 60 publications on the practice of law in Colorado.
At the reception, CBA CLE board president April Jones discussed the organization’s vision for the future.
“What our focus is on going forward is the lawyer of the future,” said Jones. “When you think about that, we’ve been around 50 years, we’ve been serving the lawyer of the future. There was a lot that didn’t exist in 1971 that exists now.”
Jones said CBA CLE is hoping to design programming to meet emerging trends and challenges around topics including artificial intelligence. She added that CBA CLE is prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion going forward and plans to create a directory of diverse attorneys who’ve volunteered with the organization. Jones said CBA CLE is also interested in rekindling partnerships with Colorado’s two law schools which used to be partial owners of CBA CLE.
Colorado’s Supreme Court chief justice and attorney general shared their thoughts on CBA CLE’s impacts.
Chief Justice Brian Boatright explained that growing up, his father, who was an attorney, would play CLE cassette tapes on long drives with Boatright in the back of the car. This was before CLE credits were mandatory, which Boatright said spoke to how important continuing education was to his father.
“My dad would say, ‘Brian, it’s called the practice of law. You have to practice this, to maintain it.’ He said ‘if you’re not learning, you’re falling behind,’” said Boatright, who added that the Colorado Judicial Branch has partnered with CBA CLE, with judges volunteering their knowledge and the branch using CBA CLE resources to educate attorneys and staff. “One of the most rewarding things about this is that it’s affordable and accessible,” he added.
Attorney General Phil Weiser said his office has also benefited from the resources and education of CBA CLE. Weiser added CBA CLE has also created a sense of community in Colorado.
“Frankly, training and CLE is at the core of any great legal institution,” said Weiser. “We should not take for granted a great engagement we had from the bench and the bar here in Colorado.”
CBA CLE handed out four awards at the celebration.
Jones, Kevin McReynolds, senior appellate deputy district attorney at the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and Danaé Woody, a former CBA CLE board president, received the inaugural Qusair Mohamedbhai Moving the Needle Awards.
Dan Sweetser, the deputy executive director of CBA and CBA CLE’s continuing education director, explained the award is in honor of prominent Denver trial lawyer Qusair Mohamedbhai.
“I’ll tell you that Qusair has set the stage for us to be the leaders, making sure that we give our diverse colleagues the opportunities to succeed in this profession in Colorado and we plan on doing it,” said Sweetser, who said the honorees have played a role in advancing diversity efforts at CBA CLE.
The organization also honored longtime former executive director Gary Abrams, who headed CBA CLE from 1996 through 2018.
According to Marc Painter, who presented the award, Abrams was instrumental in restructuring CBA CLE to create a sustainable business model during the 1990s and cultivating a culture of collaboration in Colorado’s legal community.
Painter explained that when Abrams took over, CBA CLE was owned by CBA, DBA and Colorado’s two law schools who were all competing against each other to the detriment of the organization. Painter said Abrams diplomatically reached out to each organization and members of the bar associations to bring the organization back to life.
“Instead of it being on life support, or going into bankruptcy, like people were a little afraid in the late 90s, CLE bounced back and Gary brought a vision to it and energy to it and a dynamism to it that nobody else really could,” said Painter. He credited Abrams with helping to establish the strong sense of collaboration in Colorado’s bar.
In accepting the award, Abrams thanked the CBA CLE board members who supported him throughout his tenure. He also emphasized the importance of education and teaching. He added that CBA CLE has been able to grow thanks to the work of attorneys who came before it.
“We have had so many great lawyers here in Colorado that we were able to benefit from,” said Abrams. “And there’s so many more when I look around the room that [are] continuing that great tradition.”