News and Information
August 30, 2021

Greater Richmond Bar Foundation Receives Frankie Muse Freeman Pro Bono Award

The Virginia State Bar Access to Legal Services Committee has awarded the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation the 2021 Frankie Muse Freeman Organizational Pro Bono Award, which is named for the famed civil rights leader and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

The GRBF, through its numerous programs and partnerships, has organized and led thousands of hours of legal services over the years via a variety of services designed to fit the needs of the low-income and underserved residents in its region. 

Initially established in 1978 as a non-profit arm of the Richmond Bar Association for the purpose of collecting funds for judicial portraits, the GRBF has evolved into an organization that provides volunteer attorneys with training, support, and connection to pro bono service opportunities. The GRBF's motto "Connect. Counsel. Serve." underlies each of its variety of programs and collaborations designed to bridge the justice gap in civil cases.

In 2017, the GRBF partnered with the Legal Aid Justice Center to create the Triage Project, to create a coordinated case referral system that assists the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (CVLAS) and the Legal Aid Justice Center to use JusticeServerTM to connect pre-trained pro bono lawyers to qualified clients in specific categories of legal service.

“To our knowledge, the Triage Project is the first of its kind in the United States,” wrote Melanie A. Friend, GRBF president and partner at CowanGates in her nomination letter. “GRBF created a task force to provide a supportive ring around (CVLAS), with volunteer attorneys forming virtual "law firms" in several core practice areas wherein CVLAS had a backlog of clients or lacked sufficient staffing to provide full representation.”

The Triage Project has been successful in taking some of the pressure off legal aid organizations. In their wills clinics alone, the project assisted over 500 frontline workers in the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to $350,000 in pro bono legal work from 150 attorneys donating more than 1,000 hours of time to the clinics.

The GRBF’s latest project partners with Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), with the assistance of a grant from the Virginia Law Foundation. GRBF established the Eviction Diversion Program in October 2019 to address the eviction rates in the City of Richmond. According to data maintained by HOME, in the period of July-December 2020, the program diverted 630 evictions for Richmond residents. With the help of GRBF's 50 active volunteer conciliators, 100 cases have been resolved thus far in 2021.

“As the eviction moratorium comes to a close, we anticipate demand for the program to spike, and GRBF has planned an additional CLE for volunteer training course to take place in the fall of 2021,” Friend said.

The organization’s other programs include the Pro Bono Clearinghouse, the JusticeServer Project, and the Pro Bono Promise.

Updated: Sep 07, 2021