Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 17, 2016
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 17, 2016//
The Virginia State Bar is having something of an existential crisis at the moment. In a diffuse and diverse organization of more than 40,000 sometimes argumentative professionals, it is not surprising that its members would hold divergent views on the purpose of the VSB, the scope of its responsibilities, and its duties and obligations to its constituents and the public. Nor is such existential self-reflection unprecedented: another one played out just last year when the Bar was split on whether to fund the Diversity Conference. What is the Bar, and what should it be?
This year, the flash point issue is pro bono – the Virginia Access to Justice Commission’s proposal to implement reporting of pro bono hours and reporting of financial support of organizations who directly provide legal services. The proposal seems straightforward: we are already encouraged by Rule 6.1 to spend at least two percent of our billable hours on pro bono publico services, but currently we have only incomplete and circumstantial mechanisms to estimate pro bono participation. Gathering data and responsibly using information to measure our pro bono output would allow us to make informed decisions that improve access to justice for people of limited means, instead of using extrapolations and fuzzy guesswork to buttress such an important objective.
Opposition to the proposal centers around feelings that the VSB is reaching too deeply into people’s moral or ethical decision making, and overstepping what detractors would argue is the Bar’s purpose: maintaining minimum standards of competence and disciplining the lawyers who do not meet that threshold.
But is that the Bar’s purpose? Is that what we want it to represent, merely a remote and detached disciplinarian unconcerned with justice, equality, and egalitarian progress?
Of course not.
Even aside from the question of what we want to make it, that is not even what the Bar is supposed to represent currently. The VSB’s mission statement has three equally important objectives: (1) to regulate the legal profession, (2) to advance the availability and quality of legal services provided to the people of Virginia, and (3) to assist in improving the legal profession and the judicial system. Sometimes those last two goals are overlooked even though they are the spiritual nucleus of the mission of our Bar, and the philosophical engine that drives all of the programs that foster diversity in the Bar, help the disenfranchised, underprivileged, and overlooked, and make us feel like we have careers and a calling, not just a job.
The VSB is not just an enforcer sweeping the margins, but a partner and a resource in building an egalitarian future. We need to move beyond the existential angst and remember all the reasons we exist, and take these commonsense steps toward progress.
Dean E. Lhospital, Esq., is Senior Contract Negotiator at the University of Virginia Office of Sponsored Programs.