Less than six months after retiring from the Supreme Court of Virginia and from the demanding role of Chief Justice, Cynthia D. Kinser will resume a part-time law practice this week.
Kinser, 63, starts May 5 as senior counsel with the Roanoke-based law firm of Gentry Locke. Her practice will focus on appeals, federal criminal matters and government investigations, she said. She also hopes to take on pro bono work.
As a retired justice, Kinser is barred by statute from appearing as a lawyer in any state court, except for pro bono legal aid referral work in limited circumstances.
Kinser typically will work from her Lee County home, but will come to the firm’s Roanoke office as needed, she said.
The arrangement will leave her time for the personal and family interests that she missed when she left the court in December, she said.
“I’ve not left one full-time job to go to another full-time job,” she said.
Kinser, who started in private practice in Lee County in 1978 before spending nearly 25 years on the bench, said she missed working with clients.
“While I enjoyed every moment of my time as a federal and state judge, I missed the important element of contact with clients,” Kinser said.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for me in my life,” she added.
Gentry Locke managing partner Monica T. Monday said she expected Kinser’s advice to be in demand for appellate work.
“I think a lot of people are going to want her insight as a consultant on appeals,” Monday said.
“She can moot briefs, she can do moot hearings. I think there are going to be a lot of opportunities for her to dig in with the practice of law,” Monday said.
Kinser also plans a public service component to her practice.
As a justice and as chief justice, Kinser said, she talked frequently about the importance of attorneys’ obligation for pro bono service. “I would like to put into action what I’ve talked about for so many years.”
Kinser was Virginia’s first female chief justice. She was appointed to the court in 1997 by Gov. George Allen, a former law school classmate, and twice elected to full terms by the General Assembly.
She was elected by fellow justices to a four-year term as chief justice in 2011, succeeding Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr.
She was on the court for more than 17 years, three as chief justice.
As chief justice, Kinser witnessed annual struggles over judicial funding. The General Assembly froze hiring of new judges in 2010. Successive Assembly sessions produced questions over the number of judgeships to be funded.
Kinser last year welcomed approval of a schedule of 429 trial court judgeships based on a judicial caseload study, even though the Assembly has not yet approved a budget that would fill all of the bench seats.
As head of the judiciary, Kinser oversaw the 2012 adoption of an official set of Virginia evidence rules and the 2013 creation of the court’s Access to Justice Commission, a forum for exploring ways to remove barriers to affordable civil justice.
Observers cited only two Supreme Court justices who returned to law practice after leaving the court in recent years.
Former Justice John Charles Thomas resigned from the court for health reasons in 1989 and later resumed law practice at Hunton & Williams. He remains a senior partner at the firm and serves as a mediator through Juridical Solutions.
Former Justice W. Carrington Thompson resigned from the court in 1983 citing personal reasons. He had been on the high court bench for only three years. He resumed law practice in Chatham. He died in 2011.
Practice opportunities are far more limited for justices who retire, rather than resign.
A state statute, Va. Code § 51.1-309, states that no former justice or judge of a Virginia court of record who is retired and receiving state retirement benefits shall appear as counsel “in any case in any court of the Commonwealth.
The only exception, after a two-year waiting period, is for pro bono cases referred by a legal aid office.