Access to Legal Services

Lonnie D. (Chip) Nunley, III, Chair


Vice chair:      Tara L. Casey

Members:
Hon. Yvette A. Ayala, Marie Appleby Breimann, Polly Chong, Jennifer Grace Dean, Alexandra S. Fannon, Razan J. Fayez, Jennifer A. Fulmer, Paul C. Garrett, Rachel E. Jones, Valerie A. L’Herrou, James W. Speer, Joanna L. Suyes, Crystal Y. Twitty, Martin D. Wegbreit

Ex-officio:       Mark D. Braley, LSCV Executive Director

VSB staff:
Karl A. Doss, VSB Access to Legal Services Director (July 1 – Dec. 15, 2017)
Crista L. Gantz, VSB Access to Legal Services Director (Dec. 15, 2017 forward)

2017-18 Major Accomplishments

  • SCV approval of new Voluntary Pro Bono Reporting Rule (the addition of Paragraph 22 to Part 6, Section IV of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia)
  • Bar Council and SCV approval of amendments to Emeritus Membership Rule (amendments to Paragraph 3(e) of Part 6, Section IV of the Rules of the Supreme Court)
  • Significant progress towards adoption of  a pro bono-friendly Limited Scope Appearance rule change (Rule 1.5 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia)
  • Virginia.freelegalanswers.org leading the nation in attorney response rate and surpassing 1,000 questions asked and answered on the portal
  • Successful launch of Transition Into Emeritus Status (TIES) program
  • Inaugural Frankie Muse Freeman Award presentation

Meetings:

The Committee met in Richmond on 8/29/2017, 1/24/2018, and 4/24/2018 and during the joint Pro Bono Conference/Virginia Legal Aid Conference in Charlottesville on 10/18/2017.

Over the course of the Bar Year, the Access Committee worked on a variety of access to justice issues through its subcommittees: Awards, Pro Bono Training/CLE, Alternative Delivery Systems/SRL, Rules, Legal Aid Funding, Social Media, and Joint Access to Legal Services/Virginia Lawyer Referral Service (disbanded). During regular Access Committee meetings, subcommittees would report on their work and receive input from the entire Committee. Over the course of the Bar year, the Access Committee and its subcommittees heard about and discussed access to justice issues with numerous guests, including Doris Causey, VSB President; James McCauley, VSB Ethics Counsel; John Whitfield, Co-chair Virginia Access to Justice Commission and Executive Director, Blue Ridge Legal Services; Ellen Bowyer, Staff Attorney to the Access to Justice Commission of the Supreme Court of Virginia; Ray White, Executive Director, Virginia Law Foundation; Caitlin Bradley, PES Staff Attorney, Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org:

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org, the online, interactive, pro bono question and answer website hosted by the Virginia State Bar, celebrated its one year anniversary on August 22, 2017. The Committee continued to support the Virginia Free Legal Answers portal through daily administrative functions of the staff liaison and year-round promotional engagements. Additionally, two interactive CLE training events were held at Virginia law schools to train volunteer attorneys and educate law students. Quarterly email updates were sent to volunteer attorneys containing helpful tips, reminders, website statistics, and volunteer recognition to increase engagement and interest. These efforts have resulted in significant growth, as of July 17, 2018, in the number of clients (1301 registered clients), volunteer lawyers (300) and questions asked (1,160) and answered (1,093).  Virginia.freelegalanswers.org has consistently had an attorney response rate of 94 to 95 percent, consistently putting us at the top of the nation in this category. An estimated 420 hours of pro bono service have been contributed to date.

Amendments to the Rules Governing Emeritus, Pro Bono Reporting, and Limited Scope Appearance:

Voluntary Pro Bono Reporting

Members of the Access Committee worked closely with members of the Virginia Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission to draft a voluntary reporting proposal for submission to the Supreme Court of Virginia. On December 21, 2017, the Commission submitted the jointly endorsed proposal to the Court. On February 27, 2018 the Court approved the addition of Paragraph 22 to Part 6, Section IV of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, which requests that each active Virginia State Bar member voluntarily report their pro bono hours and/or financial contributions in support of pro bono legal services on their annual dues statement. The new voluntary reporting rule goes into effect on December 1, 2018. The July 2019 VSB annual dues statement for the 2020 bar year will be the first to incorporate voluntary pro bono reporting. In response to the rule change, the Access Committee published an interactive FAQ to help members understand the new rule and identify opportunities to contribute to pro bono. The FAQ was distributed to members in VSB news, posted on the Access Committee’s Facebook page, printed in the April issue of Virginia Lawyer magazine, and distributed at various bar events and presentations. Additionally, the Access Committee coordinated with the Access to Justice Commission to procure a letter from Chief Justice Lemons reminding members of the new rule and encouraging them to contribute, track and report their pro bono efforts, which was included in the July 2018 dues statement and published in the June issue of Virginia Lawyer magazine. The Committee is involved in ongoing efforts to promote voluntary reporting and leverage the rule change to increase pro bono participation and financial support to legal aid and nonprofit pro bono service providers.

Emeritus Membership

The Access to Legal Service Committee continued work on amendments to the Emeritus rule to facilitate increased pro bono engagement by retiring and retired members of the Bar. Following the close of the public comment period on June 30, 2017, the Access Committee submitted the proposed rule change to the Executive Committee for consideration. On September 14, 2017, the Executive Committee unanimously voted to recommend approval of the amendments to the Emeritus Rule to Bar Council. On October 27, 2017, Bar Council approved the proposed amendments and thereafter the proposal was submitted to the Supreme Court of Virginia for consideration. The Court approved the proposed amendments to the Emeritus Membership Rule by Order dated December 29, 2017 and the new rule went into effect on March 1, 2018. The Access Committee launched a number of robust promotional campaigns in response, including establishing the “Transition Into Emeritus Status” (TIES) program. The Committee created TIES branding and brochures, which was published in the Senior Lawyer’s Conference newsletter and in the Virginia Lawyer magazine. In June 2018, brochures were distributed at the 50 Years of Service brunch at the Annual Meeting and mailed to more than 300 previously active members to boost interest and participation in the program by senior lawyers. Additionally, the Committee worked closely with VSB Communications to publish multiple articles highlighting the rule change in Virginia Lawyer and other bar publications. Within the first seven months of the promotional campaign, more than 15 attorneys have contacted the state bar expressing interest in the program. Four new emeritus members have been approved as of July 31, 2018, representing a 300 percent increase in membership following the implementation of the new rule. Additional applications are in process.

Limited Scope Appearance

The Rules Subcommittee of the Access to Legal Services Committee met several times to discuss amendments to Rule 1:5 as proposed by the Advisory Committee on Rules of Court (ACROC) on December 1, 2017 (original proposal) and March 1, 2018 (revised proposal). At its February and June 2018 meetings, the Rules Subcommittee considered additional changes to make the rule more conducive to access to justice and pro bono. Significant progress has been made to date; specifically, ACROC’s current proposal reflects many of the changes recommended by individual members of the Rules Subcommittee as reflected in the Access to Justice Commission’s comments to ACROC’s original proposal, which it submitted on March 1, 2018. The Committee’s work in this area is ongoing and is being done by the Rules Subcommittee members in close collaboration with the Access to Justice Commission with the goal of successfully engaging with ACROC and the Court to foster the adoption of an access-friendly rule change.

Free and Low Cost Legal Resources in Virginia Pamphlet:

In February 2017, the Access Committee published, on behalf of the Virginia State Bar, a pamphlet entitled "Free and Low Cost Legal Resources in Virginia".  This eight page pamphlet is a guide for helping low-and modest-income Virginians find legal assistance and includes options for assistance by counsel and options for self-represented litigants. The Access Committee completed distribution of more than 30,000 copies to all Virginia legal aid offices and law libraries in the 2018 Bar year. Distribution efforts to court clerks, social services organizations and other venues are ongoing.  A pdf of the pamphlet is also available for downloading/printing on the VSB website at https://www.vsb.org/docs/probono/access-guide.pdf. ;

Conferences, Webinars, Seminars, Presentations, and Outreach:

The 2017 Virginia State Bar Pro Bono Conference was held on October 18, 2017, in Charlottesville in conjunction with the Virginia Legal Aid Conference. This was the fourth time these events were held together, and attendees were welcome to attend sessions at either conference. More than 65 people participated in the conference, plus additional attendees from the Virginia Legal Aid Conference.

The Access Committee collaborated with Legal Aid organizations, law firms, non-profit legal services organizations, and bar associations to offer several webinars and seminars during the 2017-18 Bar year. Attorneys who attended VSB Access Committee sponsored or co-sponsored programs certified that they will either accept a pro bono referral from a legal aid or non-profit pro bono legal services provider or make a financial contribution to one of these organizations.  The Access Committee also supported webinars developed by the VSB Young Lawyers Conference and the VSB Intellectual Property Section. 

To support the transition into her new role as Director of Access to Legal Services after succeeding Karl Doss in November 2017, Crista Gantz made outreach visits to seven legal aid offices and two nonprofit legal service providers to meet the staff and discuss challenges and opportunities. Additional outreach efforts to the two remaining legal aid organizations and additional nonprofit legal service providers are ongoing.

Awards and Recognition:

On October 18, 2017, during the Pro Bono Conference, the Committee presented the Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Pro Bono Award to ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Ofelia Calderon.  The Committee also presented the inaugural Frankie Muse Freeman Organizational Pro Bono Award to McGuire Woods LLP. Committee Chair Chip Nunley was the master of ceremonies and VSB President Doris Henderson Causey gave the guest remarks. More than 250 people attended this event.

On June 15, 2018, during the Legal Aid Award Luncheon at the VSB Annual Meeting, the Committee presented the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award to Charu Kulkarni of Washington & Lee University School of Law and the Legal Aid Award to Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, Director of Advocacy with Legal Services of Northern Virginia.  The Committee also recognized long-time legal aid advocate Kathy Pryor for her more than 30 years of service. Anne Holton provided guest remarks. More than 75 persons attended this event.

Departing members:  Hon. Yvette A. Ayala; Marie Appleby Breimann; Tara Casey; Jennifer Dean; Jay Speer; Mark Braley (Ex-Officio) The Committee wishes to extend its heartfelt gratitude and a tip of the hat to all of its departing members. Their service was very valuable, and they will be missed both as colleagues and fellow Committee members.

New Members (2018-19):  Adonica Baine; Kristopher R. McClellan; Devon R. Slovensky; Marty Wegbreit; Patricia L. West; Karl Doss (Ex-Officio)

Officers (2018-19):  Chip Nunley, Chair; Jennifer Fulmer, Vice Chair

Staff Changes: Crista Gantz succeeded Karl Doss as Director, Access to Legal Services following Mr. Doss’ departure in December 2017.

 

Martin Wegbreit was appointed to complete the term of Marie Appleby Breimann after Ms. Appleby Breimann had a change in her employment and left the active practice of law in Virginia leading to her voluntarily resignation from the Access Committee. 


Martin Wegbreit was appointed to complete the term of Marie Appleby Breimann after Ms. Appleby Breimann had a change in her employment and left the active practice of law in Virginia leading to her voluntarily resignation from the Access Committee. 

Updated: Aug 01, 2018