Pro Bono / Access to Legal Services
TEN FACTS ABOUT VIRGINIA’S JUSTICE GAP
Did you know?
- Over 80% of the civil legal needs of the poor in Virginia and nationwide go unmet.
- Individuals who are represented by counsel are twice as likely to have a favorable outcome compared to those who are unrepresented.
- There are presently more than 1 million people in Virginia who are living in poverty. In other words, one in eight Virginians is eligible for free legal services from Virginia’s legal aid programs.
- 48% percent of low and moderate income households in Virginia experience a legal problem each year (approximately 400,000 legal problems annually).
- Because of funding cuts and decrease in IOLTA revenue, Virginia’s legal aid programs have lost 20% of their funding, resulting in a loss of 20% of total legal aid attorney and support staff statewide (61 positions total, including 34 attorneys). That leaves just 130 legal aid lawyers to cover the land area of Virginia or 42,775 square miles. At the same time Virginia’s poverty population has increased by over 30%.
- There is one legal aid lawyer per 7,237 poor persons in Virginia. Compare this to the ratio of one lawyer per 349 Virginians. 
- Nationwide, 50% of the potential clients who request legal assistance from legal aid are turned away due to a lack of resources. People seeking assistance with family law cases were turned away 80% of the time.
- Rule 6.1 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct every lawyer, regardless of professional prominence, should devote 2% of his or her professional time to pro bono legal services activity (or approximately 40 hours per year).
- If Virginia lawyers were in compliance with this aspirational goal, we should be providing over 900,000 hours of pro bono.
- According to the best available data, Virginia lawyers are providing just 80,000 hours of pro bono.
What can you do to help?
- See the VSB’s Precipitating Change Through Pro Bono brochure to find out more about Pro Bono opportunities in Virginia
- Request to receive information about Virginia.freelegalanswers.org, an online pro bono website starting in August in which low income Virginians can post a legal question on the website and attorneys who register for the website can review the questions, select one, and post an answer. It’s free, it’s limited scope, it’s convenient, it’s anonymous: it’s Pro Bono.
- Check out the Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Facebook page.
- Contact Karl A. Doss, VSB Director of Access to Legal Services by phone (804-775-0522) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Access to Legal Services Committee
- Lewis F. Powell Jr. Pro Bono Award Information — See 2015 recipient
- Virginia Legal Aid Award Information — See 2016 recipient
- Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award Information — See 2016 recipient
Is there a Pro Bono Gap in Virginia? article from the February 2014 issue of Virginia Lawyer (PDF file)
Pro Bono Training and Events Calendar
Please register for Making the Case for Pro Bono: The Justice Gap, Rule 6.1, and Virginia's New Online Pro Bono Website on May 24, 2016 1:00 PM EDT at:
Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Responsibility says that every lawyer regardless of professional prominence or workload should provide pro bono legal assistance. Unfortunately, Virginia lawyers are falling well short of this aspirational goal. Moreover, studies consistently show that 80% of the legal needs of the poor both nationally and in Virginia are not being met.
During this webinar, which is co-sponsored by the Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Committee and the Old Dominion Bar Association, attendees will receive information about the justice gap in Virginia, what the ethical rules have to say about pro bono, why pro bono makes good sense professionally, and where to find pro bono opportunities throughout Virginia - including the Virginia.freelegalanswers.org website starting this Fall.
This webinar has been approved for 1.5 hours of MCLE ethics credit. There is no registration fee to attend but registrants will be asked to certify that they will register for the online pro bono website, accept a pro bono referral from a legal services organization, or make a financial donation to a legal aid office.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
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Pro Bono Spotlight
Since September 2007, Williams Mullen has provided basic life planning documents for several groups in need of legal services through free clinics -- including veterans, nursing homes, at-risk moms, senior citizens and recovering addicts. The program was created by Pro Bono Partner Andy Nea, who has led the program’s clinics since its inception. The program served 431 clients in 26 clinics in 2015. In total, 104 lawyers contributed their services to the program during 2015, which provides a simple will, a power of attorney and an advance medical directive. The program also partners with Virginia law schools and, in 2015, 56 students from the University of Richmond, William & Mary and the University of Virginia assisted at the clinics.
 2007 Virginia Legal Needs Study, commissioned by the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia (LSCV) and funded in part by the Virginia law Foundation; 1994 ABA National Legal Needs Study
 Russell Engler, Connecting Self-Representation to Civil Gideon: What Existing Data Reveal About When Counsel is Most Needed, Fordham Urban Law Journal, Volume 37, Issue 1, 2009. pp. 51- 66..
 Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, Report to the Commonwealth and the General Assembly, FY 014-15, p. 8
 VSB Membership Report, August 3, 2015 (number of active Virginia lawyers); LSC Grant Application, May 2014(number of legal aid lawyers); US Census website (Virginia population and poverty population)
Legal Services Corporation, FY 2016 Budget Request; Alan W. Houseman, The Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), November 2005
 Rule 6.1, Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct
 Joanna L. Suyes and John E. Whitfield, Is There a Justice Gap in Virginia?, Virginia Lawyer, February 2014
 Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, Report to the Commonwealth and the General Assembly, FY 014-15;2013 VSB Access to Legal Services Statewide Survey of Independent Pro Bono Programs; and an extrapolation of ad hoc pro bono hours from ABA Supporting Justice III report, March 2013