Pro Bono

State supreme court's chief justice declares justice system emergency to increase pro bono representation

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The Virginia Supreme Court’s chief justice has issued an emergency order to increase the pool of lawyers who can represent indigent tenants who are facing eviction and others in need of free legal help.

The Aug. 11 order expands legal representation by authorizing pro bono practice by some law professors licensed outside Virginia.

The order by Chief Justice Donald Lemons says the COVID-19 pandemic is a “major disaster” that has created “an emergency affecting the justice system” in Virginia. The emergency has particularly increased the number of civil cases affecting housing and the indigent, resulting in an increased need for legal representation, the order says.

The emergency has also created case backlogs stemming from safety precautions implemented to protect judges, litigants, court employees and the public, according to the order.

To address “this impending increase of civil cases,” the order says, “the chief justice finds that such emergency warrants the assistance of lawyers from outside the commonwealth, and that law professors at accredited law schools in Virginia who are not admitted to the Virginia State Bar, but who are admitted to practice law elsewhere and otherwise meet the requirements of a ‘foreign lawyer’ as defined in Rule 10(h), are hereby authorized to provide pro bono legal services in the commonwealth on a temporary basis.”

The out-of-state-licensed lawyers will have to comply with state supreme court rules that require them to offer their services through established bar association pro bono programs, legal assistance organizations or other groups designated by the chief justice.

Charlottesville, Virginia, lawyer Bryan Slaughter had asked the court system to make the change, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

He told the newspaper that Virginia is at least the third state to loosen restrictions on pro bono representation by out-of-state lawyers in response to the pandemic. The first two states were New Jersey and Iowa, which loosened restrictions last year.

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