The Chief Justice's Pro Bono Summit -- A Driving Force Behind Positive Momentum and Innovation in Pro Bono

This past Wednesday, Chief Justice Kinser convened the third Chief Justice's Pro Bono Summit at The Supreme Court of Virginia. The VBA continued its tradition of sponsoring and organizing the event, and the courtroom was packed for the program. The attendees consisted of the pillars of the pro bono legal community in Virginia - numerous lawyers who have demonstrated their total commitment to serving people in need for many years and made a huge impact along the way. The summit represented another major step toward improving the provision of pro bono legal services in Virginia; furthermore, it exemplified how the execution of a good idea can be transformative.


In 2009, Chief Justice Leroy Hassell and VBA President John Epps hatched the idea to convene a summit at The Supreme Court for the purpose of bringing together the leaders and stakeholders of the legal pro bono community in Virginia to discuss ways to improve pro bono legal services for citizens of Virginia. Epps called on the VBA's Pro Bono Task Force, led by Scott Oostdyk of McGuireWoods and Pete Johnson of Hunton & Williams, to organize the inaugural summit. The task force responded by planning and developing the programming for the first Chief Justice's Pro Bono Summit in 2010, and the task force has done the same for the two biennial summits that followed in 2012 and this past week.


The three summits have been highly successful on multiple levels. They have given the legal pro bono community in Virginia a forum to discuss critical needs ranging from insufficient funding to the increasing pro bono service gaps and to generate ideas to overcome these major obstacles. As a result, the summits have generated positive momentum and change and heightened awareness that enhance a pro bono culture and mind-set in the Commonwealth.


The progress made since the first summit has been remarkable, from the launching of the JusticeServer program software to the rule change enabling corporate in-house lawyers licensed in other states to perform pro bono services in Virginia to many other major initiatives that have made a difference. The summits have inspired public companies, law firms, bar organizations, law foundations, and legal aid organizations to collaborate on solutions to critical pro bono needs. Companies such as Capital One and Dominion Resources have played an instrumental role in these efforts.


In addition, Chief Justice Kinser has created the distinguished Access to Justice Commission under Justice Goodwyn's leadership. To complement the Commission's efforts, the VBA has expanded the Firms in Service pro bono concept to engage more law firms to assist in closing the pro bono service gap in all major regions of the Commonwealth. The cumulative effect of these and many other initiatives has enormous potential.


The presentations at the third Chief Justice's Pro Bono Summit were outstanding. The program and presenters were as follows:

  • Remarks by the Chief Justice
    • Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser 
  • Welcome from The Virginia Bar Association
    • John Walker (Williams Mullen), VBA President
  • Introduction of Program and Format
    • Pete Johnson (Hunton & Williams), VBA President-elect
  • Report from Access to Justice Commission
    • Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, Co-Chair
  • Report on Progress Since 2012 Pro Bono Summit
    • JusticeServer: Where We Are - Where We're Going
      • Alexandra Fannon (Richmond Bar Foundation)
      • Steve Dickinson (Central Virginia Legal Aid Society)
      • Steve Otero (Capital One)
    • VBA Veterans Initiative
      • Matt Kapinos (McGuireWoods), Co-Chair, VBA Veterans Task Force
      • Heather Lockerman (Senior Assistant Attorney General) 
    • Rise of In-House Attorneys Providing Pro Bono Due to Rule Change
      • George Marget (Dominion Resources)
    • Real Life Story from Pro Bono Client
      • Pastor E. Richard Swan (Jerusalem Baptist Church)
  • Challenges of Rural Legal Representation
    • Larry Harley (Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society)
  • Virginia Law Foundation: Pro Bono as Priority
    • Jim Meath (Williams Mullen), VLF President
  • Where Are We Going Next? Some Innovative Examples
    • Senior Law Project
      • Leslie Haley (Richmond Bar Foundation)
      • Scott Oostdyk (McGuireWoods), Co-Chair, VBA Pro Bono Committee
    • Virginia Pro Bono Training Consortium
      • Karl Doss (Virginia State Bar)
    • Legal Information Network for Cancer
      • Cris Grantz (LINC)
    • Regional Spotlight: Tidewater Regional Pro Bono Plan
      • Ray Hartz (Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia)
      • Gary Bryant (Willcox & Savage)
    • Regional Spotlight: Northern Virginia
      • Jenny Haberlin (Legal Services of Northern Virginia)
      • Susan Stoney (Legal Services of Northern Virginia)
  • Closing Remarks: Positive Momentum of Pro Bono in Virginia
    • Pete Johnson (Hunton & Williams), VBA President-elect

    A reception in the historic Capitol Rotunda followed the summit, where attendees and the Justices continued the discussions in a collegial environment. On behalf of the VBA, I extend tremendous gratitude to all of the participants at the summit and especially to The Supreme Court of Virginia. Clearly, the Court's leadership has been instrumental in effecting this positive change and momentum, and the VBA remains deeply committed to doing its part going forward.

John L. Walker, III

 with The Virginia Bar Association
John L. Walker III 2013 VBA President
John L. Walker, III
The Virginia Bar Association 
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