Emerging Service Opportunities for Seasoned Lawyers

by Renae Reed Patrick, Chair, VSB Special Committee on Access to Legal Services
and Maureen K. Petrini, Director, VSB Access to Legal Services

If you closely follow the headlines you may wonder how low income families and marginally employed Virginians can possibly cope with the myriad known, emerging, and unforeseen challenges prevalent or over the horizon. Eager to reach out to those in need, you may also wonder what types of support (such as legal malpractice insurance, etc.) are in place for seasoned lawyers who seek a good match between their professional skills and interests and those who might benefit from their application.

Indisputably, the commonwealth has enjoyed a long and honorable tradition of commitment to service by her “citizen lawyers.” And, as a new generation of former activists - with admittedly diverse philosophical orientations – becomes pension-eligible, it seems timely and prudent to share information about some of the newer efforts to identify and address under served populations. Placement opportunities abound and there are, of course, many exciting service options for younger practitioners as well as those contemplating semi-retirement or a reduced fully-compensated workload.

Pro Bono and reduced fee legal services are delivered in Virginia and nationally across a continuum – they range from triage efforts for individuals facing abuse and other calamities to well-orchestrated standby clearinghouse referral programs that operate community-wide to bring nonprofits transactional help.

Sometimes an individual is in trouble, often a family is, and less often a whole community or state. With regard to the latter, identifying problems, including those of a financial nature, and preparing for and implementing response and recovery measures are often matters of degree. For example, in some areas, like hard-hit Ohio, crisis management is on the front burner. There, the state supreme court and bar association are engaging with the governor, attorney general, legal aid, and others in a multi-agency foreclosure prevention effort called “Save the Dream.” In that Midwestern state, calendar year 2007 brought more than 83,000 new foreclosure court filings, a record. See, http://www.ohiobar.org/.

In Virginia, fall-out to date from the housing crisis has been less widespread. In 2007, approximately 24,000 foreclosures were tracked statewide, with significantly more expected in the current year. If you want to volunteer to help your fellow Virginians keep their homes, consult the sidebar to this article, and contact one of the core organizations shown. Or, link via VSB to http://www.vsb.org/site/pro_bono/national-homeownership- month , or visit http://www.Virginiaforeclosureprevention.com (for additional information about participating in “Virginia Mortgage Clinics.”)

You can also easily find training on foreclosure prevention. The VSB Access to Legal Services Committee is co-hosting, along with the bar’s Section on the Education of Lawyers, sessions on residential housing foreclosure prevention during the May 22-23, 2008 Pro Bono & Access to Justice Conference. http://www.vsb.org/site/events/item/vsb-pro- bono-access-to-justice-conference/ . If, as you read this, it is past the conference date, call VSB at 804/775-0548 for information about training tapes or CDs from the event.

Donna Bausch, Law Librarian at the Norfolk [Public] Law Library, has written an excellent piece entitled “Your Second Season of Service is Just Beginning” for VSB’s April Virginia Lawyer magazine. The article appears on page 46 of the April issue. See http://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/vl0408_vall.pdf .

Direct inquiries to:
Renae Reed Patrick, Chair, VSB Special Committee on Access to Legal Services or to Maureen K. Petrini, Director, VSB Access to Legal Services (Ph. 804/775-0522);
Both mailing addresses are c/o Virginia State Bar, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, VA 23219.

Justice System Preparedness
Planning systemically for justice system response to critical incidents is another example along the preparedness continuum. While courts will typically have their own internal response plans, many states, in keeping with advisories from the American Bar Association and others, are presently contemplating or have implemented rules of court dealing with the expanded delivery of emergency legal services. These rules are intended to dovetail with one another. They seek, state-by-state, to address important legal services access/delivery issues that surfaced after the series of powerful U.S. Gulf Coast hurricanes of a few years ago.

Comments were solicited, and this summer, the Virginia State Bar Council will consider a proposal for a model court rule on emergency legal services (ELS) for Virginia. If adopted by the bar and eventually the Court, the rule (as proposed) would provide for Virginia Supreme Court “determination” of a major disaster affecting the justice system and multi- faceted response options. See, http://www.vsb.org/site/news/item/comments-sought-on- emergency-legal-services-rule/ .

These efforts nationally are independent of and generally complementary to federal declarations that govern the delivery of Emergency Legal Services through the Disaster Legal Assistance [to victims] pro bono program operated by the VSB and VBA young lawyers. See, http://www.vba.org/division/yldact.htm#com7 . (Another young lawyer project, “Wills for Heroes,” helps first responders. Scroll from http://www.vayounglawyers.org/ .)

Below, we share some additional updates. They relate in more depth to the Virginia State Bar’s Public Service Rules (6.1, 6.2, etc.) and admittedly do not reflect the universe of opportunities under the rules. If your questions and/or concerns are not addressed below, check http://www.vsb.org/site/pro_bono/resources-for-attorneys/ or contact the VSB Special Committee on Access to Legal Services* or the bar’s Access to Legal Services Office.** We can put you in touch with representatives of faith-based and other public interest groups, informal alliances and formal coalitions. VSB also has information about law firm, government lawyer, corporate counsel and appellate-level signature and pilot projects.

ADR and Other Help for Military Service Members and their Families

Attorneys interested in assisting members of the military can tap VSB publication archives for the article entitled “Lawyers Helping Warriors” by Dawn Chase on page 23 of the February 2008 issue of Virginia Lawyer magazine. http://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/vl0208_access.pdf .

Legacy Roles for Local Practitioners: Partner with Law School Clinics/Join a Formal Mentoring Program
Contact the nearest ABA-accredited law school to see whether they offer opportunities for local counsel to mentor and supervise law students in clinical practice settings. See http://www.vsb.org/site/pro_bono/resources-for-attorneys/ (scroll to “Virginia Law Schools” or “Mentoring Programs.” An ethics lecture on the concept is a highlight of the May 23, 2008 VSB Pro Bono Conference CLE.

Before You Retire—Think about special Emeritus Status
Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (Richmond, Petersburg and Charlottesville) has experience hosting attorneys in Virginia under the Emeritus Rule of Court. Call CVLAS 804/648-1012 and the bar’s Membership Department at 804/775- 0530 for more information about this “limited” form of practice;

Or, Maintain Your Status as an Active, Regular Member of VSB but Help Sustain a Legal Nonprofit by Leveraging its Staff Resources: Accept No or Low Compensation. Follow the example of numerous recipients of the Lewis Powell Award who, volunteering one day or so each week, adopted what some call the “Second Act” SM [of service] approach. See http://www.probonoinst.org/secondacts.php .

Likewise, if, as a regularly-admitted member of the bar, you are interested in volunteer service that primarily benefits the elderly, contact the Virginia Department for the Aging via Project 2025, janet.james@vda.virginia.gov . VDA can help you locate a partnering legal services provider and link you with useful local training opportunities.

You might also consider hiring on as an under-compensated legal aid attorney. Curious about how these “second career” options work? We can put you in touch with legal aid staff who successfully transitioned from private practice, military or other government service and then, once again, made major contributions to society in their new roles.

Marketplace Justice (VPLC) and MORE
Interested in economic and other issues that exceed mortgage foreclosure prevention? Contact the Virginia Poverty Law Center at 804/782-9430 for information about, public benefits, bankruptcy, litigation and consumer law training and legal aid task forces that deal with marketplace justice and other big picture issues. Or, become an advocate through the web sites monitored by VPLC at http://www.probono.net/va and www.valegalaid.org . You can also review the voluntary bar and other offerings at http://vsb.org/docs/LegallyInformed.pdf and http://www.vsb.org/site/pro_bono/resources-for-attorneys/ (scroll to “Volunteer and Public Service Opportunities.”)

Do Some Homework First if Founding a Legal Start-up Seems Attractive
Thinking about filling service gaps by starting a new law-related nonprofit? Call the bar at 804/775-0522 for an informal referral to someone who successfully followed this route after much diligent research and reflection. Ensuring a Full Spectrum of Services: Public Interest Law Reform Efforts & the Appropriations Process. Call VSB for an informal referral if you want to learn about service options with law-related organizations whose declared missions involve public advocacy.

Indigent Defense, Re-Entry, and Jail Visits to Detained Immigrants
Some geographic regions in Virginia lack sufficient numbers of experienced counsel to represent indigent defendants. To learn more about potential second career opportunities, contact the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission at 804/662-7249 or visit http://www.indigentdefense.virginia.gov/. The Commission has information about regional deficits on court appointed counsel lists and staff vacancies in public defender offices. Additionally, a number of groups and coalitions are focusing on medical neglect cases, inmate transition (re-entry) work and the needs in detention of members of the immigrant community. The bar’s Access to Legal Services Office can suggest contacts.

Lawyer Referral and the Coalition of Community Mediation Centers
Join the Virginia State Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service where you can offer nominal fee initial consultations to the public, including members of Virginia’s elderly and disability communities. Call 804/775-0591. Or, to learn more about required training and to participate in sliding- fee nonprofit alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services, see http://www.courts.state.va.us/cmcl/cmcl.htm . (Of particular interest to retired Circuit Court judges is http://www.courts.state.va.us/jsc/ .)

Monetary Donations under VSB Public Service Rule 6.1(c); VLF Bequests
Contact your favorite charities delivering legal services directly to the public or contact the Virginia Law Foundation to learn more about tax planning incentives and the continuum of philanthropic opportunities, ranging from modest donations to major bequests. http://www.virginialawfoundation.org .

Replicate or Adapt a Pro Se Litigant Project
Ask your local law library and interested members of the judiciary if they could use help updating law-related materials for the public. The Fairfax County Public Law Library serves as one of several templates across the state in terms of services and accessibility for pro se litigants. See http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/courts/lawlib/ . Or, ask the chief judges in your local circuit about importing and adapting the pro se issue guides on Landlord/Tenant and Civil Litigation in General District Court assembled in English and Spanish by the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation. http://www.grbf.org/education.htm .

Contemplate “Futures Commission” Recommendations: Feel Better Informed in Your Personal Decision-making
Make it a point to follow developments from the Supreme Court of Virginia’s “Futures Commission” (The Commission on Virginia Courts in the 21st Century: To Benefit All, To Exclude None), http://www.courts.state.va.us/futures_commission/home.html . Although adoption of final recommendations is still pending at the Court, a visit to the commission’s Web site can be provocative as well as productive. You will get a better feel for the challenges facing Virginia’s justice system and appreciate the larger context in which to contemplate your own next steps.

Updated: May 23, 2008