Access to Legal Services

Lonnie D. (Chip) Nunley, Chair

Co-vice chairs:

Tara L. Casey
Susan J. Stanford-Stoney

Members:      

Marie Appleby
Polly Chong
Jennifer Grace Dean
Paul Garrett
Rachel E. Jones
Valerie L’Herrou
Robert J. Poggenklass
Adrienne M. Sakyi
James W. Speer
Joanna L. Suyes
Crystal Y. Twitty
The Honorable Yvette Ayala Via

Ex-officio:        Mark D. Braley, LSCV Executive Director

VSB staff:        Karl A. Doss, VSB Access to Legal Services Director

2015-16 Priorities

The Access Committee identified the following priorities for 2015-16:

  1. Increasing outreach to recruit pro bono lawyers, especially in greater Virginia and areas where pro bono participation is low;
  2. Creating metrics around pro bono in Virginia to measure the impact of access to justice policies and practices, including a proposed pro bono reporting rule;
  3. Providing free training on issues in which there is a critical need for pro bono lawyers, such as handling uncontested divorces, representing special immigrant juveniles, and  assisting low-income, ex-offenders regain their driver’s licenses so that they can get and keep their jobs;
  4. Working collaboratively with  and improving coordination among legal aid and non-profit legal services organizations, private law firms, state, local, and specialty bar associations and justice system stakeholders  to increase access to legal services and address matters of equal justice policy;
  5. Assisting and supporting the efforts of the Supreme Court of Virginia Access to Justice Commission;
  6. Using technology to increase the availability of legal assistance to low income and modest means Virginians, i.e., Virginia.freelegalanswers.org;
  7. Improving support of indigent criminal defense; and
  8. Serving as a repository of access to justice information via live presentations, the VSB website, and social and print media for the bar and the public.

Meetings:

The Committee met in Richmond on 9/1/2015, 1/26/2016, and 04/26/2016 and during the joint Pro Bono Conference/Virginia Legal Aid Conference in Williamsburg on 10/21/2015.

Over the course of the Bar Year, the Access Committee has worked on a variety of access to justice issues through its subcommittees.

  • Awards Subcommittee – reviews nominations for and recommends recipients of the Legal Aid, Oliver Hill Law Student Pro Bono and Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Attorney Pro Bono Awards (Chair – Joanna Suyes; Members – Polly Chong, Susan Stanford Stoney. Crystal Twitty). Met on  8/27/2015 and  4/6/2016
  • Legal Education Access Subcommittee – considers how to increase access to justice by reducing barriers posed by the cost of a law school education for students and graduates interested in public sector careers (Chair - Rob Poggenklass; Members - Mark Braley,  Jennifer Dean, Valerie L’Herrou and Chief Magistrate Yvette Via; and Clarence Dunnaville, advisory member).  Met  on 7/22/2015 and 12/4/2015
  • Online Pro Bono Website Subcommittee – assists Access to Legal Services Director to develop strategies for lawyer recruitment and public marketing strategy for Virginia.freelegalanswers.org (Chair – Karl Doss; Members – Marie Appleby, Tara Casey, Chip Nunley, Adrienne Sakyi, Joanna Suyes, and Chief Magistrate Yvette Via).  Met on 3/21/2016 and 4/21/2016.
  • Pro Bono Training/CLE Subcommittee – recommends topics, presenters, and speakers for various Access Committee-sponsored trainings and events including the annual Legal Aid Luncheon and Pro Bono Conference (Chair – Tara Casey; Members – Mark Braley, Paul Garrett, Chip Nunley, and Chief Magistrate Yvette Via).  Met on 12/1/2015
  • Social Media Subcommittee – develops policy, establishes guidelines, and provides oversight  of the Access Committee’s potential use of social media for outreach to the Bar and members of the public concerning access to justice issues, pro bono trainings, events  and service opportunities  (Chair – Jennifer Dean; Members – Chris Fortier, advisory member). Met on 8/4/2015 and 11/30/2015
  • Unbundling of Legal Services Subcommittee – develops a proposal for a new Rule of the Supreme Court of Virginia re. unbundling of legal services (Chair – Susan Stanford-Stoney; Members – Valerie L’Herrou, Chip Nunley).  New committee that will meet in August or September 2016.
  • Funding Subcommitteeexplores opportunities to increase public and private funding of Virginia’s legal aid offices (Chair – Chip Nunley; Members - Marie Appleby, Mark Braley, and Tara Casey). No meetings in 2015-16.

During regular Access Committee meetings, subcommittees would report on their work and receive input from the entire committee. Over the course of the year, the committee and subcommittees heard about access to justice issues from numerous guests, including Buck Lewis, ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and ABA Technology Committee; Ed Weiner, VSB president; and John Whitfield, co-chair Virginia Access to Justice Commission and executive director, Blue Ridge Legal Services. 

Conferences, webinars, seminars, and presentations

The 2015 Virginia State Bar Pro Bono Conference was held on October 21, 2015, in Williamsburg in conjunction with the Virginia Legal Aid Conference. This was the second time these events were held together, and attendees were welcome to attend sessions at either conference. The conference featured CLE presentations “Representing Undocumented Minors in Family Court: Pro Bono and SIJS Cases” and “Virginia Residential Landlord-Tenant Law for Pro Bono Lawyers.”

In order to increase outreach to and recruitment of pro bono attorneys as well as to provide training to legal aid lawyers, public defenders and court appointed attorneys on matters of substantive law, the Access to Legal Services Committee collaborated with law firms non-profit legal services organizations, and bar associations to offer several webinars and seminars during the 2015-16 bar year.  Attorneys who attend VSB Access Committee sponsored or co-sponsored programs certify that they will either accept a pro bono referral from a legal aid or non-profit pro bono legal services provider or make a financial contribution to one of these organizations:

Webinars

  • Advance Medical Directives and Pro Bono, August 5, 2015
  • Ethical Considerations in Pro Bono, October 1, 2015
  • Uncontested Divorces: A Webinar for Pro Bono Lawyers, (co-sponsored by Legal Services of Northern Virginia and the VSB Young Lawyers Conference), February 18, 2016.
  • Representing SIJS Clients in Virginia‘s J&DR Courts and U.S. Immigration Courts, (co-sponsored by the Legal Aid Justice Center and CAIR Coalition), March 10, 2015.
  • Introducing Virginia.freelegalanswers.org, April 21, 2016.
  • Driving While Poor: Breaking the Cycle of Criminal Justice Debt and the Restoration of Ex-Offender Driving Privileges, (co-sponsored by Drive to Work and Hunton & Williams), April 28, 2016.
  • Making the Case for Pro Bono: The Justice Gap, Rule 6.1 and Virginia’s New Online Pro Bono Website, (co-sponsored by the Old Dominion Bar Association), May 24, 2016.

Seminars

  • Poverty and the Law: Understanding Poverty, University of Richmond, Jepson Alumni Center (co-sponsored by the University of Richmond School of Law), September 18, 2015.
  • Trial Practice for Public Defenders and Legal Aid Lawyers, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Henrico, VA (co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers - Virginia), September 24, 2015.
  • How to Get Your License Back, Virginia Department of Corrections Headquarters (co-sponsored by Drive to Work and Hunton & Williams), March 3, 2016.

CLE Presentations Sponsored by Other Committees/Organizations

  • Presentation: The Justice Gap in Virginia and the Rules of Professional Conduct Supporting Pro Bono, Loudoun County Bar Association meeting, July 17, 2015.
  • Presentation: An Introduction to Providing Pro Bono Representation to Child Refugees and Human Trafficking Victims, Metro Richmond Women’s Bar Association CLE Program, February 3, 2016.
  • Panel Presentation: Resources for Bar Associations, Bar Leaders Institute, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, March 28, 2016.
  • Panel Presentation: The Justice Gap in Virginia and the Rules of Professional Conduct Supporting Pro Bono, James Kent and l’Anson Inns of Court Meeting, April 13, 2016.
  • Presentation: The Justice Gap, Rule 6.1, and Pro Bono in Virginia,  VSB Young Lawyers Conference Immigrant Outreach Committee CLE: Nuts and Bolts of Defensive Asylum for Unaccompanied Minors with an Emphasis on Gang-Based Claims, George Mason University School of Law, June 2, 2016.

Public Information, Law School and Non-CLE Presentations

  • What to Do When You Cannot Afford a Lawyer, (co-sponsored by the Old Dominion Bar Association), Richmond Public Library , October 26, 2015.
  • Pro Bono and Professional Responsibility Presentation, Washington & Lee Law School, February 8, 2016.
  • An Overview of the Work of the Virginia Access to Justice Commission and the VSB Access to Legal Services Committee, VSB Committee on the Future of the Law Practice Meeting, February 11, 2016.
  • Coordinating Pro Bono in the Commonwealth, Virginia Supreme Court Pro Bono Summit, April 20, 2016
  • Pro Bono Presentation, Yorktown and Poquoson Bar Association Meeting, May 18, 2016

Access to Legal Services Committee-sponsored and co-sponsored MCLE webinars and seminars and CLE presentations offered more than 28 hours of continuing legal education credit (including more than 4 hours of ethics) and were attended by over 800 people.  The Public Information, Law School and Non-CLE presentations were attended by 150 people.[1]

Awards:

On October 21, 2015, during the Pro Bono Conference, the Committee presented the Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Pro Bono Award to George H. Hettrick, Pro Bono Partner at Hunton & Williams.  VSB president Ed Weiner was the master of ceremonies and Jo-Ann Wallace, CEO and president of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, gave the guest remarks. More than 250 people attended this event.

On June 17, 2016, during the Legal Aid Award Luncheon at the VSB Annual Meeting, the Committee presented the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award to Lieutenant Kaylee R. Gum of William & Mary Law School and the Legal Aid Award to Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program.  Buck Lewis of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and Technology Committee provided guest remarks.  Over 100 persons attended this event.

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org:

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org is part of a new initiative undertaken by the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee to build and maintain a fifty state interactive website to provide online pro bono legal assistance to people who lack the resources to retain counsel. To date over 40 states have signed up for the project and, beginning in mid-August, the Virginia State Bar will host a portal on which low-income Virginians can log onto the internet, file legal questions and get answers to their questions from volunteer lawyers licensed in Virginia. Users can access the service and pose questions from their smart phones or anywhere they can have access to a computer and an internet connection, such as a public library. Financially-eligible clients, i.e., income below 250% of federal poverty guidelines, may ask questions about and receive answers involving all types of civil legal problems.  The way it works is as follows:

  1. When a prospective client logs on, they will answer series of questions regarding their income, residence and assets. 
  2. If they are determined to meet eligibility guidelines, then their question is placed in a queue for Virginia lawyers.
  3. If they exceed eligibility guidelines, they will be advised accordingly and referred to other potential resources where they might receive legal assistance
  4. The user will post a request for legal advice information and provide facts that will help the lawyer answer the question. Users will be able to go back to their posted question one time to add information.
  5. Lawyers, who are licensed and in  good standing and registered for the service, review questions and are free to select and respond to a question based on applicable Virginia and/or federal law.
  6. The lawyer may ask for additional information before responding to the user's request. The user will have a choice to respond to that request or not. The attorney and user may engage in a dialogue concerning the question.
  7. If a lawyer responds to a user's request, the user will receive a written response through the website.  The attorney closes the dialogue with their response.
  8. The VSB will periodically review the queue for unanswered questions and advise volunteer lawyers about questions still requiring a response.  However, if no lawyer responds to a request after 30 days, the request will be removed and VSB will notify the user.

Lawyers who sign up for the website will provide limited scope pro bono legal advice to low-income persons.  Volunteer lawyers answering questions on the website will be covered under a malpractice policy provided by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Insurance Group.  While Virginia.freelegalanswers.org is not a substitute for full representation by a lawyer, it will increase the availability of legal resources and legal information to low-income Virginians by providing users with convenient, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year access to lawyers who can answer their legal questions.

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org is tentatively scheduled to begin operation on August 9, 2016. The Access Committee has set a goal of recruiting 75 – 100 lawyers to answer questions online when the site debuts.  Access Director Karl Doss has been actively recruiting attorneys to register for the online pro bono website by making presentations at various events.  The website has also been promoted to attorneys via the VSB website, Virginia Lawyer magazine (April and June 2016 issues) and the Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Facebook page.  To date, approximately 130 attorneys have pre-registered for, certified that they will sign up for, or expressed an interest in registering for Virginia.freelegalansers.org

Other activities:

  • Pro Bono Reporting.  Both the Virginia Access to Justice Commission and the VSB Access to Legal Services Committee provided leadership to amend Paragraph 18 of Part 6, Section IV of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Comment to Rule 6.1 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct re. the annual reporting of pro bono hours and donations by Virginia lawyers to support programs that provide the direct delivery of legal services to low-income persons.  These proposed amendments, which were drafted by the Commission and endorsed by the Access Committee, will be brought to Bar Council in October 2016.
  • Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Facebook page.  The Access to Legal Services launched on August 4, 2015.  The VSB Access to Legal Services page provides information about access to justice issues, training, and pro bono service opportunities in Virginia.  Since its debut, the page has 226 “likes” (or members/subscribers) and is viewed hundreds of times each week.  Karl Doss is the administrator for the page, Tara Casey is the editor, and Jennifer Dean is the moderator.
  • Supreme Court of Virginia Access to Justice Commission. Mark Braley continues to serve on the Virginia Access to Justice Commission and is a member of the Commission’s Judicial Education and Outreach and Education Committees. Tara Casey and Karl Doss were added as members of the Commission.  Ms. Casey and Mr. Doss were also named as co-chairs of the Pro Bono Coordinating Consortium and are members of the Pro Bono Committee. Mr. Doss also is a member of the Outreach and Education Committee. Susan Stanford-Stoney serves on the Committee on Access for Self-Represented Litigants.
  • Virginia Bar Association Pro Bono Council. Virginia Bar Association president Pete Johnson appointed Chip Nunley, Mark Braley, and Karl Doss to serve on the VBA Pro Bono Council.
  • Greater Richmond Bar Foundation.  In May 2016, Karl Doss was appointed to a three year term as a member of the Board of the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation. 
  • VSB Solo & Small Firm Practitioner Forums and Other Appearances. Karl Doss provided information about pro bono and access to justice issues at the VSB Solo & Small Firm Practitioner Forums in the Eastern Shore on April 10, 2016 and Fredericksburg on May 2, 2016. Marie Appleby represented the Committee at the Solo & Small Firm Practitioner Forum in Blacksburg on May 16, 2016.  Mr. Doss also provided information at the VSB Tech Show on April 25, 2016 and the Admissions & Orientation Ceremony on June 8, 2016.
  • Pro Bono Outreach.  The Access Committee collaborated with the Office of the Attorney General, Virginia Department of Veterans Services and VSB Military Law Section to conduct Veterans Legal Services Clinics at four sites – Chesapeake, Richmond, Roanoke and Annandale – on March 1 – 4, 2016.  The clinics offered free estate planning services, including simple wills, powers of attorneys and advance medical directives, to low-income veterans.
  • New Award.  The Access Committee approved the establishment of the Frankie Muse Freeman Organizational Pro Bono Award.  The Committee recommended naming the award after Frankie Muse Freeman, a native of Danville, VA who served as an attorney in state and federal courts fighting discrimination and helping to establish civil rights policies.  Ms. Freeman was among legal counsel in successful landmark cases to end school and housing discrimination, was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as the first female member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and was later appointed as Inspector General of the Community Service Administration by President Carter.  She was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Atlanta and received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, which is the organization’s highest honor, and the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity Spirit of Excellence Award. President Obama appointed her to serve as a member of the Commission on Presidential Scholars.   The Access Committee observed that organizations had an unfair advantage over individual lawyers relative to the quality and quantity of nomination materials for the Lewis Powell, Jr. Pro Bono Award and recommended that it would be better to recognize the pro bono service of individually lawyers separate and apart from pro bono service by law firms, law departments, and organizations.  The Committee would like to officially introduce the award during the 2016 Pro Bono Conference and has invited Ms. Freeman, who is 99 years old, to attend this event.  The award will be presented for the first time in 2017.

Officers (2016-17):  Chip Nunley, Chair; Tara L. Casey and Susan Stanford-Stoney, Co-Vice Chairs

New Members (2016-17):  Ali Fannon, Razan Fayez

 

[1] During 2015-16, 320 people attended Access Committee sponsored webinars, 127 attended Committee seminars, 60 attended CLE sessions during the Pro Bono Conference, 310 people attended presentations during CLE programs that were not sponsored or co-sponsored by the Access Committee, and 145 people attended public information, law school and non-CLE presentations.

Updated: Aug 03, 2016