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Proposed | new rule: provision of legal services following determination of major disaster (Pending with the Supreme Court of Virginia as of July 11, 2008)

 

Supreme Court of Virginia to review proposed Supreme Court Rule regarding the Provision of Legal Services Following Determination of Major Disaster

view proposed rule (PDF file)

view SC Petition – July 11, 2008 (PDF file)

 

The Supreme Court of Virginia is expected to consider for approval, disapproval, or modification, a new Supreme Court Rule regarding the Provision of Legal Services Following Determination of Major Disaster that was proposed by the Virginia State Bar’s Task Force on Emergency Legal Services (“ELS Task Force”) and unanimously adopted by the Council of the Virginia State Bar on June 19, 2008.This proposed rule was developed as a result of the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) actions to help address the problem of the provision of legal services following a disaster or emergency, such as existed following Katrina and Rita.  Beyond the physical damage and devastation caused by those hurricanes, there was also a crippling effect on the legal systems in the affected states.  In response, the ABA formed a task force that advocated for the suspension of unauthorized practice of law rules in the various states impacted by these hurricanes because, while lawyers from other jurisdictions would have liked to help staff disaster assistance centers or otherwise advise hurricane victims, they were deterred from doing so because of a lack of clarity about whether they would be violating any unauthorized practice of law rules.The ABA task force recognized the need for a model rule that would allow out-of-state lawyers to provide pro bono legal services in an affected jurisdiction and that would allow lawyers in the affected jurisdiction whose legal practices had been disrupted by a major disaster to practice law on a temporary basis in an unaffected jurisdiction.  Since both the highest court of a jurisdiction affected by the major disaster and the highest courts of jurisdictions not affected by the disaster could implement the rule on an emergency basis, the ABA determined that this rule should be a Model Court Rule.

The ABA then asked that each state consider the adoption of this or an equivalent rule.   In response, the Virginia State Bar formed the ELS Task Force to study the ABA’s Model Court Rule.  After deliberations the ELS Task Force agreed that a similar court rule should be adopted in Virginia with minor amendments.

The proposed rule provides that the Virginia Supreme Court shall determine when, as a result of a disaster, an emergency affecting the justice system has occurred in Virginia that would trigger the provisions of this rule.  Additionally, if that emergency extends to another jurisdiction the determination of the existence of a major disaster will be made in conjunction with the highest court of that jurisdiction.  Under this rule, the Court may allow:  

1.    Out-of-state lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to the citizens of Virginia within certain constraints described in the model rule, and;
2.    Displaced lawyers from an affected state can provide legal services in Virginia on a temporary basis if these services are reasonably related to the lawyer’s practice in the affected jurisdiction.

Inspection and Comment
The proposed rule may be inspected at the office of the Virginia State Bar, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, Virginia 23219-2800, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Copies of the proposed rule can be obtained from the offices of the Virginia State Bar by contacting the Office of Ethics Counsel at 804-775-0557, or can be found at the Virginia State Bar’s Web Page at http://www.vsb.org.

Any individual, business or other entity may file or submit written comments in support of, or in opposition to, the proposed rule by filing nine copies with the Clerk of the Court and three copies with Karen A. Gould, the Executive Director of the Virginia State Bar, not later than August 21, 2008.

Updated: March 16, 2010