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Proposal would encourage pro bono by retired lawyers

A Virginia State Bar panel is hoping to boost the number of retired lawyers who qualify for special status to provide pro bono services for needy clients.

Bar rules allow for so-called “emeritus members” to provide no-cost legal service under specified conditions, even though they pay no bar dues and may not otherwise practice law.

Participation has lagged. In fact, there is only one such member in the state, according to VSB records.

Members of the VSB Special Committee on Access to Legal Services hope to remove an impediment by dropping a requirement that the work of an emeritus lawyer be under the “direct supervision of a supervising attorney.”

Under the revised rules, the chief requirement remains that an emeritus member must provide services only through “Qualified Legal Services Providers,” which include legal aid offices and law school clinics. Qualified providers also would include the online service virginia.freelegalanswers.org, according to Karl A. Doss, the VSB director of access to legal services.

Doss said emeritus status is available to active, associate or retired members in good standing of the VSB who:

  • Intend to provide pro bono legal services per Rule 6.1 (a);
  • Have practiced law for 20 years or more;
  • Have not been disciplined by the bar or court of any jurisdiction within the past 15 years prior to requesting emeritus status;
  • Have been engaged in the active practice of law for five out of seven years before applying for emeritus status;
  • Agree not to be compensated for their legal service (other than reimbursement for out of pocket expenses).

Emeritus lawyers must certify their QLSP affiliation and whether or not they are currently covered by professional malpractice insurance annually, Doss said.

The proposed amendment provides that to receive emeritus status, retired attorneys must submit to a competency review and provide the VSB Executive Committee with a letter from their physician certifying the applicant’s competency.

Retired and associate attorneys applying for emeritus status must also fulfill any outstanding MCLE obligations, Doss said.

The VSB Access Committee unanimously approved the proposed amendments May 9. The proposed changes are up for comment through June 30.

Comments may be submitted via email to publiccomment@vsb.org.