The Virginia Supreme Court hosted its 5th Biennial Chief Justice’s Pro Bono Summit on April 4 in Richmond, Virginia. Chief Justice Donald Lemons welcomed approximately 100 attendees to the Court to share pro bono initiatives The Commonwealth is spearheading to further develop a culture of pro bono. Pro Bono Institute President and CEO Eve Runyon and Corporate Pro Bono Director Tammy Sun attended the event and were energized by the great efforts organized by all sectors of the Virginia Bar.
The Virginia Supreme Court hosted its first Pro Bono Summit in 2010 with a call to “make pro bono cool.” Since then, Virginia has launched several exciting initiatives, including an Access to Justice Commission, which the Court established in 2013. This year, the Virginia Bar presented several new projects that are in development.
- The VBA’s Pro Bono Promise asks private firms and corporate counsel for a written commitment to adhere to their ethical obligations to dedicate two percent of their billable time to pro bono work and to create the internal structures to make this possible. Fifty-three leading law firms and corporate counsel across Virginia have made the promise.
- JusticeService 2.0 is a cloud-based legal case management system that manages legal aid cases and connects them to volunteer attorneys, law students, and paralegals in a secure portal. Legal service providers can expand their capacity to serve low-income clients by creating a virtual firm of volunteer attorneys. These volunteer attorneys can connect to cases and pertinent resources through their computer or mobile phone.
- FreeLegalAnswers.org is an initiative designed to build and maintain a 50-state interactive website to provide online pro bono assistance to low-income clients. Users post a request for legal advice on the site and licensed lawyers within the state review the questions and respond. Virginia’s state site launched in August 2016 (Virginia.FreeLegalAnswers.org). The site is both an accessible resource for Virginia’s low-income clients but also an easy and convenient way for Virginia attorneys to perform pro bono work. As of March 2018, volunteer attorneys in Virginia have answered 94 percent of questions logged on the site, helping Virginia achieve one of the highest attorney response rates in the country.
- The Triage Project is a management system designed to handle pro bono private sector cases in several non-core Legal Aid areas, thus freeing up Legal Aid to concentrate its limited resources on core specialties.
As a result of the tremendous contributions of many in Virginia devoted to access to justice and pro bono legal services, great work is being done to further justice for all. Congratulations, Virginia for continuing to make pro bono cool.