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Pro bono reporting issue sparks VSB ‘crisis’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 17, 2016

Pro bono reporting issue sparks VSB ‘crisis’

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//October 17, 2016//

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Lhospital_Dean_2016_MAINBy Dean E. Lhospital

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.


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