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Does RZA Legal provide Pro Bono Services?


Picture of the a statue of a woman holding a scale and sword

The Latin term Pro Bono Publico translates to “for the public good” although generally the term has been shortened to pro bonoAccording to Mirriam-Webster, pro bono means “being, involving, or doing professional and especially legal work donated especially for the public good.” 


The Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (the MED regulations of the legal world in Colorado) do not require lawyers to provide pro bono representation, however they state that “Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.” The spirit behind pro bono is to allow and encourage access to justice for all, since oftentimes, legal matters are pivotal to major life events of individuals - or businesses - in our society of laws.


Our team members do not come from trust funds or wealthy families and we each have personal experiences where friends or family could have benefitted from legal counsel when facing various business, criminal or domestic legal matters, but due to cost, such assistance was out of reach.  As a result, at RZA Legal, we take our commitment to providing pro bono very seriously. Here are the ways RZA Legal supports the public good through pro bono services:


  1. RZA Legal provides free legal consultations for social equity applicants and licensees.


I have been an advocate for legalization since my college days at FSU NORML over twenty years ago!  As an individual who qualifies as a Colorado Social Equity licensee based on my immediate family’s involvement in the justice system due to cannabis prohibition, providing my time and expertise to help social equity applicants and licensees is an important personal cause of mine.  


Conducting free consultations takes time away from work I could perform that I would otherwise be paid for, but again, I believe in the spirit of dedicating some of my professional time to those who cannot afford consulting with an experienced attorney on their legal matter. 


In 2023, we conducted 29 free social equity consults.  So far in 2024, we conducted 10 free social equity consults.  This is the equivalent of giving away almost $10,000 in free legal services.


  1. Colorado Bar Association Social Equity Pro Bono Program. 


In 2022, as the Chair of the Cannabis Law Section of the Colorado Bar Association, I successfully pitched a program where the Colorado Bar Association would house a pro bono referral program where social equity applicants and licensees could receive a free consultation.  I have spent hours pitching the program, developing the required forms and administrative processes, recruiting other volunteer attorneys to engage in the program, and marketing the program to those who need it (including getting it added to the MED’s Social Equity resource list).


  1. Small Business Legal Assistance program at OEDIT.


Outside of the cannabis world, I serve as a volunteer attorney through the Small Business Legal Assistance program at OEDIT.  This program matches small, non-cannabis business owners in Colorado with volunteer attorneys on issues involving contract, employment, real estate, and other non-litigation issues.


  1. Legal clinic participation.


Over the years, I have dedicated time to participate in various legal clinics, where a legal service organization like a local or state bar association or other non-profit hosts an event where folks can get paired up with a volunteer attorney to receive legal guidance on navigating their particular legal matter.  We have participated in legal clinics for drafting wills and powers of attorney for the elderly community, expungement clinics assisting individuals to have criminal records wiped away, and a social equity legal clinic through the Cannabis Law Section Pro Bono Program.  


How else do the professionals at RZA Legal donate their time to the cause?


  1. Educational presentations on legal issues.


Attorney Brian Blumenfeld has been a repeat speaker at the Grand Lake U.S. Constitution Week, educating the public on important legal topics such as the founding of our country and our representative governmental system, election law, political primaries and parties, districting, marijuana legalization and federalism, U.S. Treaties and more.  He also volunteers with the local high school for their mock trial competitions.  


Rachael has presented at various senior community centers about the various types of estate planning documents that can protect against court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship or contested probate cases.  


Rachael also teaches continuing legal education classes for other lawyers to learn more about working with cannabis clients, how to deal with common legal issues cannabis companies face including real estate matters, contracts, buying and selling cannabis business licenses and assets, structuring companies, and more.  


  1. Advocacy & Policy work.


Rachael has been an outspoken advocate for cannabis legalization for over twenty years, beginning at the NORML chapter at Florida State University in 2003.  She has petitioned for local cannabis policy progress in Florida and Colorado, continues to remain abreast of cannabis policy issues and communicates regularly with local leaders to advocate for sensible policy and regulations.  Rachael is a long time member of the NORML Legal Committee.


Rachael annually attends and contributes to the rule-making workgroups and hearings conducted by the Marijuana Enforcement Division (as well as the Natural Medicine Division starting this year) as well as municipalities.  She was appointed as an advisor to the MED on the Social Equity Program Advisory Work Group in 2022.  She also analyzes legislation introduced by the Colorado General Assembly regarding cannabis issues and provides for the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council.


  1. Mentorship.


Rachael is a two-time mentor for social equity licensees through the BIPOCANN Mentorship program presented by the Colorado Cannabis Business Office.  She also mentors law students to help bridge the gap between doctrinal classroom study of the law and practical application in the law firm setting.


 

Small Business Legal Assistance program thanking Rachael Ardanuy for her participation.

In our experience working heavily with social equity businesses in cannabis over the years, we have identified one common trait: paying forward the resources and information to help other social equity businesses in a cooperative, rather than competitive, manner.  When you grow up and live with limited resources, you learn to make those resources work, and passing on resources you can provide to others comes naturally.  


We all (RZA Legal and the clients we serve) have the goal to make a profit in our businesses and a mark on the world.  We will continue to balance our profit-generating activities with giving our time and expertise away for free so that we can contribute our part to improving access to cannabis for consumers and patients, and provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs who have struggled due to cannabis prohibition, poverty, or other systemic barriers.

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