- Joi G. Kush is a family law practitioner and firm owner from Colorado Springs, who is now the president of the Colorado Bar Association.
- She has lived in China, India, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Her work there included writing about legal issues, creating student-run legal clinics and teaching English.
- Kush attended Albany Law School, where she worked with the Civil Rights and Disabilities Law Clinic.
- She is a mentor attorney with the Colorado Springs Teen Court, a restorative justice approach for teenagers who commit low-level offenses.
Colorado Politics: I read that you decided you wanted to be a lawyer since you were 9 years old. How did that come about?
Joi Kush: The decision to pursue a legal career was heavily influenced by the values my family instilled. "Service to others” is our family motto. I wanted to pursue a career that would be challenging and yet provide a service to the community.
CP: You sit on the Colorado Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being. What types of challenges is the legal profession facing, especially in light of the pandemic?
Kush: The American Bar Association released a comprehensive report on lawyer well-being in 2017. We have found that the issues which were identified in 2017 are the same in 2021; however, the issues are even more dire and require immediate action.
According to the ABA report, legal professionals and law students struggle from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. Several Colorado lawyers — including James C. Coyle, Sarah Myers, and Jonathan White — were part of the legal team who created this report. Based on the findings and recommendations, the Colorado Supreme Court created the task force, which consists of legal professionals throughout the state.
This team worked diligently over several years to create a Colorado specific report that will be released in the fall of 2021.
We cannot ignore this very important crisis — lawyers need help. We must focus on well-being from the moment a student starts law school and continue to prioritize well-being throughout each lawyer’s career.
CP: You are the president of the Colorado Bar Association after a year of virtual proceedings, suspended jury trials and pressure to reduce the prison population. What are you hearing from CBA members about new protocols they hope will persist, and what new challenges are they having to address?
Kush: It is important that we continue our broad outreach by utilizing various online platforms. Virtual hearings have increased access to justice by allowing litigants to participate remotely rather than traveling to the courthouse, saving both time and money. Many legal professionals have enjoyed a more flexible work schedule allowing for a better work-life blend. Meetings are now more accessible for our members throughout the state which has increased participation.
In general, there has been a lot of great and positive feedback.
There are also some negatives. Some feel as if decorum has been lost because virtual hearings are less “formal.” Also, many people in greater Colorado lack access to a quality internet connection so “virtual” hearings were impractical at times. Finally, there is a substantial backlog of jury trials which is adding to the judicial workload and stress.
CP: Will CBA have a role in helping people navigate "pandemic law"? By that I mean the legal challenges around vaccine mandates, school re-openings, and perhaps a resurgence of public health restrictions?
Kush: The CBA has and continues to assist the broad and legal community navigate the pandemic through our legal clinics. Our legal clinics currently assist litigants with questions related to evictions, family law and bankruptcy. We also support the Small Business Legal Assistance program with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and the Federal Limited Scope Appearance Program developed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Finally, the Colorado Bar Association collaborates with the Colorado Access to Justice Commission to create solutions for those who lack the information, tools and services necessary to resolve their legal problems.
As lawyers, we swear an oath to use our “knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system.” As an organization, we remain committed to our oath and will continue to do what we can to help those in need.
CP: When the Colorado Supreme Court adopted a rule earlier this year requiring diversity, equity and inclusivity training, some lawyers pointed out the lack of diversity within the profession. Is there a consequence to having an overwhelmingly white pool of lawyers in Colorado, and what do you feel the CBA can do over the next year to ensure attorneys of color won't always be relegated to the numerical minority?
Kush: It is vital that our profession reflects the community which we serve. As a profession, we lack the same diversity which is present in society.
To empower our diverse attorneys, we have created the Colorado Diverse Attorney Community Circle. We have overhauled our bylaws, mission and vision statements to focus on equity, diversity and inclusivity. We are holding ourselves and the organization accountable through the creation and active engagement of the Racial Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Committee and the Joint Steering Committee.
The Colorado Bar Association also participates in the President’s Diversity Council. We have a long journey ahead of us, but we remain action oriented and focused.
CP: Americans have become accustomed to hearing about how political the court system is, from progressives calling on Justice Breyer to retire to Mitch McConnell blocking President Barack Obama's judicial nominees. And of course, there are the broader problems in the criminal justice system that led to worldwide protests last year after George Floyd's murder. Are we risking that the public will lose faith in the justice system? Or are we already there, and what do lawyers need to do about it?
Kush: There are significant concerns that the public has lost faith in the justice system. Instead of engaging in divisive acts and partisan conversations, legal professionals — both lawyers and judges — must help educate the public regarding the judicial process and encourage civic education. Through education and engagement with the broader community, we can build trust and a better understanding of our third branch of government.
In Colorado, we have a great program called Our Courts which informs the public about the state and federal court system. This program began in 2007 and is a joint activity of the Colorado Judicial Institute and the Colorado Bar Association. The Colorado Bar Association is also a proud sponsor of the High School Mock Trial Program which exposes high school students to the actual courtroom, real judges and unique public speaking opportunities.
Of course, just like all professions, we have a few professionals that have created distrust and skepticism in our system. Unfortunately, there has been more negative press over the years which exacerbates the public’s perception that the judicial system is corrupt and/or unjust. However, these professionals are in the minority and do not reflect the broader legal profession.
CP: Given that attorneys have the power to affect one person's life and liberty or litigate cases that can affect large segments of the population depending on the outcome, how can you be more accountable to the public?
Kush: Lawyers are not immune from getting “lawyered.” When we start our career, all lawyers swear an oath to support the United States Constitution and the constitution of the state of Colorado. We also swear to “faithfully and diligently adhere to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.”
We have an obligation to competently and zealously represent our clients, maintain confidentiality and, amongst other things, disclose any error to our clients. If we fall short, then we are held accountable by our peers, clients and/or the judges we appear in front of.
CP: Finally, is your life as a lawyer everything you thought it would be when you were 9?
Kush: Absolutely. In many ways, being a lawyer is more than what I could ever imagine. This is one of the most honorable professions, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.