Special Committee on Access to Legal Services

Joanna L. Suyes, chair

Co-vice chairs: James A. Ferguson

                       Crystal Y. Twitty

Members (i):      Marie A. Breimann

           Andrea L. Bridgeman

           Tara L. Casey

           Jennifer Grace Dean

                       John B. Gately

                       Eva N. Juncker

           Lauren Mehosky

           Lonnie D. (“Chip”) Nunley

           Nancy M. Reed

           Dr. A. Michael Signer

           James W. Speer

                       Susan J. Stanford-Stoney

           Patricia M. Sulzbach

                      The Honorable Yvette Ayala Via

Ex-officio:       Mark D. Braley, LSCV executive director

VSB staff:       Mary Yancey Spencer, VSB deputy executive director

                      Karl A. Doss, VSB Access to Legal Services director (ii)

                      Paulette J. Davidson, VSB Access to Legal Services staff

Meetings:

The committee met in Richmond on 08/23/2013, 10/24/2013, 12/19/2013, 02/25/2014 and 04/28/2014 and informally in Virginia Beach with the Association of Virginia Legal Aid Programs on 06/13/2014.

At its August meeting, John Whitfield of Blue Ridge Legal Services presented information on the preliminary results from the statewide independent pro bono survey that had been approved by the Access Committee and conducted in the spring of 2013. Mr. Whitfield and Chair Joanna Suyes then collaborated on an article published in the February 2014 issue of Virginia Lawyer magazine summarizing the results of the survey and calling on Virginia lawyers to increase their participation and financial support.

In conjunction with Celebrate Pro Bono Week in October 2013, Director Karl Doss developed a  webinar titled “An Introduction to Pro Bono: We Can All Do Something,” which covered topics such as the need for pro bono, the ethical rules concerning pro bono, and the resources available to lawyers doing pro bono work. Attorneys who registered for the free webinar certified that they would complete one hour of pro bono work in exchange for one hour of CLE credit. A second introductory pro bono webinar, “Pro Bono: What’s in it for Me? How Private Attorneys Can Do Well by Doing Good,” was offered in December 2013. This webinar focused on the business and professional benefits of pro bono for the volunteer lawyer. 

The committee, in support of the American College of Trial Lawyers, conducted a trial skills training program for public interest lawyers on October 22, 2013. The seminar covered skills for both civil and criminal public interest lawyers and was open to attorneys employed full-time in a public interest practice, including attorneys employed in legal aid, public defender, and commonwealth’s attorney’s offices.

The CLE/Pro Bono Training Subcommittee and Mr. Doss also worked to develop a proposal for the creation of a Pro Bono Training Consortium consisting of representatives of the VSB, voluntary bar associations, law firms, legal aid offices, law schools, specialty bar associations, and bar foundations to provide coordination of trainings on substantive and procedural law as well as practical skills training for lawyers providing pro bono services.  Using the consortium’s collaborative training model as a guide, the committee organized a five-part webinar series in conjunction with the Legal Information Network for Cancer titled “Meeting the Legal Needs of Individuals Facing Serious Illness Through Pro Bono.” The series featured programs on ethics and finding pro bono opportunities, relief from creditors, Medicaid and Medicare, Social Security Disability, and landlord-tenant issues. The Access Committee, in collaboration with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services and the Virginia Poverty Law Center, also developed a webinar “Pro Bono and Elder Law: End-of-Life Planning.” Attorneys who registered for these free webinars certified that they would accept one pro bono case in exchange for one-and-a-half hours of CLE credit.

The committee created a Funding Subcommittee to examine ways to increase funding and volunteer efforts for legal aid programs, which have experienced dramatic cuts in resources in the past ten years. The committee also created a subcommittee to assist in determining through the use of surveys or means whether its access to justice efforts have made any difference in the delivery of civil legal services to indigent Virginians.

Over the course of the year, the committee heard from numerous guests about their pro bono efforts on behalf of low-income Virginians, including Alison Held from the Medical Legal Partnership of Richmond; Crista Whitman Gantz of Legal Information Network for Cancer; Nancy Porcari of Community Tax Law Project; Ali Fannon, executive director of Greater Richmond Bar Foundation; Mary Bauer, executive director of Legal Aid Justice Center; and Monique Miles, of the Young Lawyers Conference of the Virginia State Bar.

Awards:

At the VSB Annual Meeting in June, the committee presented the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award to Kathleen Dwyer of T. C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond and its Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award to Christie Marra, housing and domestic relations attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center. VSB President Sharon Nelson and President-elect Kevin Martingayle attended and Jim Sandman of Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C., provided guest remarks.

The committee will present the 2014 Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Pro Bono Award at its October 2014 Pro Bono Celebration to be held in Portsmouth in conjunction with the annual Legal Aid Conference.

Other activities:

During 2013-14, Director Doss made several presentations about pro bono on behalf of the Access Committee to bar associations, lawyer organizations, and law firms including the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Virginia, the Hanover Bar Association, Richmond Firms in Service, the Young Lawyers Conference of the Virginia State Bar, John Marshall Inn of Court, the Bar Leaders Institute, and the Chief Justice’s Pro Bono Summit. Mr. Doss also attended the 2014 Equal Justice Conference in Portland, OR.

Members Bridgeman and Braley were honored to be invited to serve on the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Access to Justice Commission. Director Doss was invited to serve on the Commission’s Pro Bono Committee.

Officers (2014-15):  Joanna L. Suyes, chair; Tara L. Casey and James A. Ferguson, co-vice chairs

New Members (2014-15):  Polly Chong, Paul Garrett, Adrienne Sakyi


(i) Juncker resigned the Committee effective February 24, 2014. Gately’s service to the Committee ended with the 2/25/2014 meeting. Dean and Mehosky began their service to the Committee as of the 4/28/2014 meeting.

(ii) Karl Doss became Director, Access to Legal Services effective August 2013.

Updated: Jul 16, 2014