VIRGINIA UPL OPINION 119


Foreign Attorney Performing Pro Bono Work in Virginia.

You have requested an opinion based upon the following facts:

You advise that you are a member of the District of Columbia and Maryland bars.

The Social Justice Committee of a church you attended for five years and where you are still registered has asked you to become involved in their committee and to contribute legal services. The group is planning to sponsor a home for single mothers with children to offer such persons better lodging than they could afford on their modest incomes.

Since the project is still in its infancy, you can only imagine the legal services that might be requested: Reviewing leases, real estate sales contracts and related documents; helping the group seek zoning variances and similar privileges before county departments and agencies in the event that the group’s choice of building is not zoned for the intended purpose; providing advice is requested; writing legal letters on behalf of the group as requested.

The question is whether pro bono work for a church-related organization is unauthorized practice of law.

As indicated in the “Definitions??? section of Virginia State Bar Unauthorized Practice Rules, a person is deemed to be practicing law whenever:

“One, other than as a regular employee acting for his employer, undertakes, with or without compensation, to prepare for another legal instruments of any character, other than notices or contracts incident to the regular course of conducting a licensed business.

“One undertakes, with or without compensation, to represent the interest of another before any tribunal — judicial, administration or executive — otherwise than in the presentation of facts, figures or factual conclusions, as distinguished from legal conclusions, by an employee regularly and bona fide employed on a salary basis, or by one specially employed as an expert in respect to such facts and figures when such representation by such employee or expert does not involve the examination of witnesses or preparation of pleadings.???

Except as otherwise provided in the Rules, these activities are considered the unauthorized practice of law, even if they are provided on a pro bono basis.

UPR 1-101 describes the extent to which a nonlawyer may appear before a tribunal. UPC 1-1 defines the term “tribunal.??? Please not that the term “tribunal??? does not include a tribunal established under the Constitution of laws of Virginia before which the practice or appearance by a nonlawyer on behalf of another is authorized by statute.

Committee Opinion
June 9, 1988
Updated: Aug 28, 2006