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Supreme Court lifts pro bono restrictions for corporate counsel

The Supreme Court of Virginia has accepted a proposal by a joint task force of the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association that will make it easier for corporate counsel who are not licensed in Virginia to provide pro bono services.

Corporate counsel now can provide such services only in programs operated and controlled by a legal aid society under the supervision of a licensed Virginia attorney.

The restriction was imposed largely because of concerns about legal malpractice by an uninsured attorney who provides advice outside his or her area of expertise.

The VSB and VBA acknowledged the legitimacy of those concerns but noted that most lawyers licensed in Virginia who provide pro bono services do so in areas outside their expertise. Those lawyers are not required to maintain malpractice insurance, the associations said.

Any concern about the ability of a lawyer to represent a client adequately is covered by the Rule of Professional Conduct that requires competent representation, a provision that applies to corporate counsel and Virginia-licensed attorneys alike, proponents of the amendment to Rule 1A:5 argued.

The Supreme Court also accepted the VSB and VBA argument that the rule requiring the written consent of the party being represented and written approval of the supervising attorney was inappropriate.

While a written agreement might be desirable, it is not required of attorneys who are licensed in Virginia, and there is no reason that corporate counsel licenses in another state should be treated differently in providing pro bono service, the proponents contended.

Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser sent VSB Executive Director Karen A. Gould a memorandum earlier this week advising her that the Supreme Court had approved the proposal at its business meeting on April 4.
By Alan Cooper

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