News and Information
July 29, 2022

Bar Disciplinary System Hosts 40th Annual Conference

The 40th Annual VSB Disciplinary Conference on July 28 and 29 brought together over 120 lawyers, judges, and lay persons working to maintain the integrity of the legal profession in the Commonwealth at the Virginia Crossings Conference Center in Glen Allen.

Over two days, members of the 17 disciplinary district committees, the Disciplinary Board, the Committee on Lawyer Discipline (COLD), and Bar leadership worked to improve the process that disciplines lawyers in Virginia in order to fulfill the Bar’s first mission: protecting the public.

There was a renewed appreciation for lawyer self-governance at this year’s conference, as failed Virginia Senate Bill 561—if passed during the 2022 General Assembly Session—would have ended self-regulation and handed the power of lawyer discipline to the legislature.

“Self-regulation is a matter of legislative grace,” COLD Immediate Past Chair William H. Atwill noted in remarks to the crowd. “[Senate Bill 561 was] a jarring reminder that what is given can be taken away.”

One major goal of the conference was to train new members of the various disciplinary district committees, who are tasked with reviewing complaints and conducting investigations against lawyers in their districts.

“Be ready to change your mind when others present evidence you had not considered,” advised Atwill to new committee members.

Renu M. Brennan, Bar Counsel at the VSB, was charged with covering the latest Disciplinary System developments for members old and new. Brennan gave an overview of nearly every disciplinary case from the last year, which included topics ranging from inappropriate attorney-client relationships to failure to comply with trust accounting rules. During Fiscal Year 2022, 3,115 complaints were received by the Bar, with 16.9 percent of those cases being formally opened.

New Sixth Disciplinary District Committee Member Shelia H. Holmes noted that a previous presentation from Brennan had first interested her in joining the disciplinary process.

“I’m on the Executive Board of the Old Dominion Bar Assocation and chair of the Winter Meeting,” Holmes said. “Renu did an ethics presentation and asked if anyone was interested in the Disciplinary Committee to reach out to her, and I did.”

Members were later paired in small groups to work through vignettes designed to reflect situations that committee members may be confronted with during their investigations. The situations presented included a lawyer who disrespected a judge in court and another lawyer who missed an appeal deadline for a client.

The highlight of the two-day event was a keynote address by the Hon. Stephen R. McCullough, Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, who thanked those involved in upholding and enforcing the rules of ethics governing the profession. “You’re one of the pillars of our profession,” he said.

McCullough, a lover of history, went on to give attendees a brief history of the development of ethical codes and rules governing the profession, noting that for hundreds of years there were no such rules in existence. According to McCullough, the first binding set of ethical rules emerged in the early years of the 20th century and “tapped into ideas of civility and professionalism.”

Finally, McCullough encouraged experienced lawyers who mentor young lawyers and law students to ensure that their mentees live up to the high ideals of the profession and to correct them when they do not meet those standards. “Those are difficult moments, but necessary,” he said.

Read more information on how to get involved with the Virginia State Bar.

Updated: Aug 01, 2022