Virginia State Bar

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

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Military Law

A Section of the Virginia State Bar.

Section News and Information

February 6, 2009

Plan for VSB and Military Law Section To Assist With the Provision - Military Legal Services In Va

 

January 30, 2009

Edward L. Davis
Bar Counsel, Virginia State Bar
Chair, Military Law Section


The following is a summary of work to date with Virginia military practitioners and the Virginia State Bar Military Law Section, and a plan for meeting two objectives:

  1. Assisting those uniformed Judge Advocate Officers stationed in Virginia, but not admitted to practice here, in obtaining limited admission under Rule 1A:6 of the Rules of Court, enabling them to provide in-court representation for aggrieved military clients in certain civil cases authorized by the Rule.
  2. Seeking Virginia lawyers willing to help military clients on a reduced fee or pro bono basis.


I. Assisting Judge Advocate Officers In Obtaining Limited Admission Under Rule 1A:6

Discussion:

I surveyed the Legal Assistance and Client Services offices at Virginia Military installations about what the Virginia State Bar could do to help. I also raised the issue with the Military Law Section, which discussed it at its last meeting on January 9, 2009. The following points summarize the issues and conclusions:

  • Limited admission under this Rule would enable Judge Advocate Officers to appear in court to conclude cases, or leverage more equitable results for their clients when opposing parties know that they are able to appear in court.
  • The Naval Legal Services, for example, wishes to avail itself of this Rule for these reasons, and has some potential candidates.
  • Virginia Judge Advocate Officers, however, are not able to avail themselves of Rule 1A:6 because of the costs.
  • The military services are lawfully able to pay the Professionalism Course fee out of unit training funds.
  • By letter, dated December 2, 2008, the Supreme Court of Virginia reduced the Professionalism Course fee from $140 to $70 for candidates for admission under Rule 1A:6. 1
  • The Government cannot lawfully pay the remaining fees (character and fitness examination) needed for limited admission under Rule 1A:6 because such fees are considered licensing fees not payable by the federal government under pertinent law.
  • Candidates for admission under Rule 1A:6 are more junior officers and not able to pay the $250 fee.
  • The $250 character and fitness examination fee represents a reduction in overall costs following the elimination of associated administrative costs, and cannot be waived.
  • One potential alternative is for the military to seek a grant from the Virginia Law Foundation or other sources to pay the $250 fee.
  • This alternative may not be available, however, because of the military Joint Ethics Regulation, which prohibits Government employees from receiving funds from “outside sources.” 2


Recommendation:

  • That the Virginia State Bar offer to help the military (the Naval Legal Services, for now) locate appropriate foundations, and offer advice and guidance on applying for grants to defray the $250 character and fitness examination fee, if such is considered lawful by the federal government.


II. Seeking Virginia Lawyers To Assist Military Clients On a Reduced Fee or Pro Bono Basis

Discussion:

There are military members, retirees and dependents in Virginia who could benefit from legal services beyond those available from the uniformed Judge Advocate Officers at the military installations. Typical scenarios include landlord-tenant disputes or other commercial disputes handled by uniformed officers to a point, but that cannot be concluded successfully because there is no threat of final in-court representation for the aggrieved client. A Virginia lawyer being available to conclude such cases in court would help to leverage more equitable resolutions for such military members.

Potential clients are not eligible for Virginia legal aid or related services because they are not residents of Virginia or their incomes exceed the threshold for such services. Typically, anyone whose rank exceeds the E-2 pay grade (Private, for example) is not eligible for legal aid.

There is also a referral program for military members through the American Bar Association, the military Pro Bono Project. This service utilizes Virginia attorneys who have graciously volunteered their services. For such services, the legal assistance office must make a referral to the ABA, which will then select an attorney. Clients with a pay grade higher than E-6 (Staff Sergeant, for example), however, are not eligible for this service. Nonetheless, clients in these pay grades need to avail themselves of such services and frequently cannot afford outside counsel.

The Military Law Section and the legal assistance representatives present at the January 9, 2009 meeting felt uniformly that it would be a tremendous help to recruit additional attorneys from the VSB willing to volunteer their services to assist needy military members, family members and dependents, on a pro bono basis, with some limited in-court representation in cases that have come to fruition, but for which the uniformed legal assistance officers are not permitted to appear in court because they are not admitted to practice in Virginia.

The Military Law Section suggests that the VSB post a solicitation for volunteers willing to be available for such client services and limited in-court representation. A list of such names could be provided to the legal assistance offices at Virginia military installations, and maintained by the Virginia Lawyer Referral Service as well.

The members of the services present at the meeting all felt that this would help tremendously, because they would be able to make the referrals directly without going through the ABA, and would not be confined by the income limitations of the ABA program and legal aid.

Recommendations:

  • That the Virginia State Bar publish on its web page and in its publications a solicitation for attorneys willing to help military clients on a reduced fee or pro bono basis.
  • That these messages encourage local law firms to participate in this pro-bono program.
  • That the Virginia State Bar encourage local and specialty bars to further promote, assist, and participate in this program.
  • That the Military Law Section promote this program further in its annual program and newsletter.
  • That the Military Law Section compile this information into a list and furnish it to the legal assistance offices at Virginia military installations.
  • Lawyers volunteering for this service must be eligible to participate in the VSB Lawyer Referral Service.


Attorneys who wish to volunteer may contact:

Christopher M. Dunne, Esquire
U.S. Coast Guard Judge Advocate General’s Office
2100 2nd Street SW, Room 1513
Washington, D.C. 20593
(202) 372-3782
Christopher.M.Dunne@uscg.mil

Note: This service is not yet available to potential clients. More information will be posted at http://www.vsb.org when it is available.

 


Endnotes:

1 This was in response to a written request, dated October 3, 2008, from the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel to waive all fees and costs associated

2 I asked Naval Legal Services to research and provide an opinion as to whether there may be an exemption for this needy cause.