Access to Legal Services

Lonnie D. (Chip) Nunley III, Chair

Vice chair: Jennifer A. Fulmer

Members: Adonica Baine, Polly Chong, Alexandra S. Fannon, Razan J. Fayez, Paul C. Garrett, Rachel E. Jones [1], Valerie A. L'Herrou, Kristopher R. McClellan, Devon R. Slovensky, Joanna L. Suyes, Crystal Y. Twitty, Martin D. Wegbreit [2], Judge Patricia West

Ex-officio:      Karl Doss, LSCV Deputy Director

VSB staff:       Crista L. Gantz, VSB Access to Legal Services Director

2018-19 Major Accomplishments

  • Bar Council approval of bylaw amendment proposal changing Access to Legal Services to a standing committee of the Virginia State Bar

  • Implementation of the new voluntary pro bono reporting rule (Section 5) into the VSB Annual Dues Statement process. 

  • Completion of twenty “Rule 6.1 & Voluntary Pro Bono Reporting: Ethics, Explanation, and Opportunities” presentations to local and specialty bar associations to promote the new reporting rule and encourage pro bono participation.

  • SCV adoption of a pro bono-friendly Limited Scope Appearance rule change (Rule 1:5 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia)

  • Restructuring of the organization to bring Virginia Lawyer Referral Service under the Access to Legal Services Department.

  • Virginia.freelegalanswers.org leading the nation in attorney response rate and surpassing 2,000 questions asked and answered on the portal.

 

Meetings:

The Committee met in Richmond on 8/27/2018, 2/7/2019, and 4/18/2019 and during the joint Pro Bono Conference/Virginia Legal Aid Conference in Norfolk on 10/17/2018.

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, and Legal Aid Funding. 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 discussed access to justice issues with numerous guests, including Len Heath, VSB immediate past president; James McCauley, VSB ethics counsel; John Whitfield, co-chair Virginia Access to Justice Commission and executive director, Blue Ridge Legal Services; Andrea DeMott, fellow, Virginia Poverty Law Center; Ann Brogan, Crowley, Libertore, Ryan & Brogan, PC; Palma Pustlinik, Central Virginia Legal Aid Society; Hon. Michael Charles Rosenblum, Chief Judge, Norfolk General District Court; Dee Norman, editor, Virginia Lawyer Magazine; and Frances White, Pro Bono Project Coordinator, Virginia Legal Aid Society. 

Change from Special to Standing Committee of the Virginia State Bar

On June 13, 2019 Chip Nunley and Joanna Suyes, on behalf of the Access committee, presented a bylaw amendment proposal to Bar Council requesting to make Access to Legal Services a standing committee of the Virginia State Bar. The proposal was unanimously approved by Council. [3] The committee name, purpose, size (15 members) and composition are now written into the bylaws. To be consistent with the composition requirements of other standing committees and to strategically enhance communication and collaboration with bar leadership, at least two members of the Committee must also be members of Bar Council. Given the significant coordination between the Access Committee, legal aid, and the courts on access to justice matters, the bylaw amendment also requires membership on the committee to include at least one member of the Virginia Access to Justice Commission; one staff attorney, director or executive director of a licensed legal aid society; and one director or executive director of the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia. The bylaw amendment solidifies the Committee as an essential part of the Bar’s mission, achieves structural uniformity within the Bar, and is consistent with the majority approach taken by other mandatory state bars.

Voluntary Pro Bono Reporting:

On February 27, 2018 the Supreme Court of Virginia 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 went into effect on December 1, 2018. The July 2019 VSB annual dues statement for the 2020 bar year incorporates voluntary pro bono reporting as new Section 5. Members can report online or by mail. Those renewing by mail can return the separate reporting form with their dues statement. 

In response to the rule change, the Access Committee published a FAQ to help members understand the new rule and identify opportunities to contribute to pro bono. The first version was published on March 16, 2018, and was distributed to members in VSB news, posted on the Access Committee’s Facebook page, printed in the April issue of Virginia Lawyermagazine, 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 June 2018 dues statement mailing. Chief Justice Lemons included a second letter in the June 2019 dues statement mailing. 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, including providing a series of presentations across the state, 19 of which were completed this year. 

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, and subcommittee member feedback was incorporated into the Commission’s comments submitted to ACROC’s original proposal, which it submitted on March 1, 2018. Ultimately, ACROC adopted all but one of the Commission’s recommended changes in the revised proposal it submitted to the Court. The Court adopted the proposal on October 31, 2018 as a pilot project in effect from January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2021. Amendments to Rule 1:5 (e) allow attorneys employed by legal aid and pro bono attorneys acting on a referral from legal aid offices to file notices of limited scope appearance for just a part of a pending litigation. The option comes with a right to withdraw once a lawyer has completed the limited scope representation. The amendments complement Rule 1.2 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct and add transparency to the process within the courtroom. Other Virginia attorneys can make a limited scope appearance by seeking leave of court.

Other Accomplishments

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org:

Virginia.freelegalanswers.org, the online, interactive, pro bono question and answer website hosted by the Virginia State Bar, celebrated its two-year anniversary on August 22, 2018. The Committee continued to support the Virginia Free Legal Answers portal through daily administrative functions of the staff liaison and year-round promotional engagements. Information about the portal was built into several Rule 6.1 and voluntary pro bono reporting presentations as part of the opportunities section. Additionally, two interactive CLE training events were held, one at the University of Richmond School of Law (the second annual training of such kind) and a recruiting event in Richmond at the Troutman Sanders office, which was also videocast to Virginia attorneys in the DC and Virginia Beach offices. 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 in the number of clients (1301 registered clients), volunteer lawyers (369) and questions asked (1,160) and answered (1,093). Virginia.freelegalanswers.org has consistently had an attorney response rate of 94 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.

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 advice and counsel services for self-represented litigants. In the 2018 bar year, the Access Committee kicked off a partnership with the Diversity Conference to translate the Access guide into Spanish. This year, we completed the translation the Spanish-language version of the guide; next year we will print and distribute the guide to Qualified Legal Services providers and the courts. 

 

Conferences, Webinars, Seminars, Presentations, and Outreach:

The 2018 Virginia State Bar Pro Bono Conference was held on October 17, 2018, 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 2018-19 Bar year, most notably a series of local presentations and webinars to promote pro bono and the new voluntary pro bono reporting rule.  

Awards and Recognition:

On October 17, 2018, during the Pro Bono Conference, the Committee presented the Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Pro Bono Award to Andy Nea. The Committee also presented the second annual Frankie Muse Freeman Organizational Pro Bono Award to Prince William County Bar Association. Committee Chair Chip Nunley was the master of ceremonies and VSB President Doris Henderson Causeygave the guest remarks. More than 250 people attended this event.

On June 14, 2019, during the Legal Aid Award Luncheon at the VSB Annual Meeting, the Committee presented the Oliver White Hill Law Student Pro Bono Award to Zachary McDonnell of William & Mary Law School and the Legal Aid Award to Palma Pustilnik, of Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.  The Hon. William Mims, Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia provided guest remarks and VSB president-elect Brian Buniva emceed the event. More than 80 guests attended this event.

Departing members:  Lonnie “Chip” Nunley; Razan Jamil Fayez; Rachel Erb Jones. The Committee wishes to extend its heartfelt gratitude and a tip of the hat to departing members. Their service was very valuable, and they will be missed both as colleagues and fellow Committee members. 

New Members (2019-20):Donna Sue Baker; David Marks; Dale Pittman

Officers (2019-20):  Jennifer Fulmer, Chair; Ali Fannon, Vice Chair

Staff Changes: In December 2019 Cameron Rountree joined VSB as the new deputy director, succeeding Renu Brennan. In January 2019 Sylvia Daniel began providing administrative support to Crista Gantz. 

 

 


1. Rachel Jones resigned from the Access Committee on November 07, 2018 due to a job change and related work load challenges. The committee opted to leave her seat open until the 2019-2020 bar year. 
2. Martin Wegbreit was appointed to complete the term of Marie Appleby Breimann (ending June 30, 2019) 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. 
3. At its June 12 meeting the day before, the Executive Committee voted unanimously to recommend to Bar Council the approval of the proposed bylaw amendment. Chip Nunley also presented this action item. 
Updated: Jul 12, 2019