Virginia is for Pro Bono Lovers

The PBEye was delighted to see  that, effective April 15, 2011, the Virginia Supreme Court approved an amendment to its rules, removing restrictions that limited certified in-house counsel’s ability to provide pro bono work to deserving and needy clients in Virginia.  Now, certified in-house attorneys may provide pro bono service, subject only to the conditions that apply to all Virginia attorneys – the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.  This change empowers the more than 800 certified in-house attorneys in Virginia to provide desperately needed assistance to low-income individuals and organizations.  We hope this amendment will serve as an example for other jurisdictions.

Unlike many states, Virginia previously had a rule allowing in-house attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions but certified to work for a legal department in Virginia to provide pro bono.   The problem was that like nearly every state that has such a rule (the exception being Colorado), it provided for unnecessary restrictions, including a requirement that in-house counsel only provide pro bono work pursuant to an approved legal aid organization program and under the direction of a supervising attorney.  For some matters, the rules also required a letter from the pro bono client and court approval.  The impact of these restrictions was chilling and made pro bono impractical for certified in-house counsel.

Fortunately, many attorneys understood that the restrictions imposed by Virginia’s old rule were unnecessary, insulting to in-house attorneys and, given the extraordinary need for assistance, unjustifiable limitations on the provision of access to justice.  A number of those attorneys gathered nearly a year ago at Virginia’s Pro Bono Summit, including our friend Randal Milch, executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc.*  He spoke passionately about the importance of pro bono while urging the court and the bar to make the necessary changes to take advantage of the expertise of in-house lawyers.  After the summit, a taskforce composed of attorneys from the Virginia State Bar and Virginia Bar Association, with assistance from CPBO, drafted the amendment that was proposed and ultimately passed.  In CPBO’s statement applauding the amendment, Milch said:

Verizon commends the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia State Bar, and the Virginia Bar Association for so quickly changing the rules that limited the opportunities for in house counsel to provide pro bono service to Commonwealth’s neediest residents.  Virginia now stands as a leader in the cause of freeing the needlessly restricted capabilities of in house counsel to provide pro bono service.  Virginia’s new rule is an ideal model for other jurisdictions to follow.  Verizon’s attorneys in the Commonwealth look forward to expanding their pro bono work under this outstanding new regime.

For additional comments see CPBO’s complete statement here. For more information about this issue or to join the effort to change the rules in other jurisdictions, contact Eve Runyon, director, Corporate Pro Bono.

*denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM