The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It

Multijurisdictional Practice

September 7, 2012

In-House Pro Bono in Connecticut Steps Forward

This summer, Connecticut became the latest jurisdiction to amend its practice rules to permit authorized in-house counsel to provide pro bono legal services.  The judges of the Connecticut Superior Court adopted the revisions on June 15, which become effective January 1, 2013.

Like many states, Connecticut previously had no rule allowing pro bono legal services to be provided by in-house attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions but authorized to work for a legal department in the state.  Although there are nearly 900 authorized in-house counsel in Connecticut, this gap in the rules might have remained.  However, the current crisis in access to justice has forced many in the legal community to consider untapped resources, including the skills and dedication of authorized in-house counsel.

In October 2011, the Connecticut Access to Justice Commission hosted a Pro Bono Summit where attendees discussed the crisis and the steps Connecticut could take to improve the provision of legal services to underserved communities.  Speaking on one of the panels during the summit, Brackett B. Denniston III, senior vice-president and general counsel of General Electric Company** emphasized the importance of pro bono and recommended that the practice rules be changed to enable authorized in-house attorneys to provide pro bono legal services.

Following the summit, the Connecticut Access to Justice Committee presented to the courts a recommendation to amend the practice rules.  As a result of the new amendment, authorized in-house attorneys will be able to provide pro bono service offered “under the supervision of an organized legal aid society or state/local bar association project, or of a member of the Connecticut bar who is also working on the pro bono representation.”

While the new Connecticut provision is not as expansive as provisions adopted in other jurisdictions such as Colorado and Virginia, we at The PBEye believe it’s a step in the right direction.  As jurisdictions become more familiar with the issues related to in-house pro bono and as in-house pro bono continues to grow, The PBEye hopes that states will move to adopt language that would support broad participation in pro bono by in-house counsel.

In the meantime, for more information about this issue or to join the effort to change the rules in other jurisdictions, contact CPBO Director Eve Runyon.

**denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

May 2, 2011

VIDEO: Pro Bono Potential in Virginia

In the most recent edition of The National Law Journal, PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent writes about multijurisdictional practice issues through the lens of two states that have made progressive decisions that impact in-house pro bono.  Lardent’s column examines the rules in many states that “handcuff [attorneys] with restrictions that are unnecessary, insulting and unjustifiable in the face of the crisis in access to justice,” while making the case for more freedom for in-house attorneys to do pro bono work.

As you may have read here on The PBEye, last month the Virginia Supreme Court removed restrictions on pro bono practice by in-house lawyers in the state.  This change opens the gate for certified in-house attorneys who are eager to provide pro bono legal services and serves as a model for other states.

To better understand the ground-level impact of Virginia’s rule change, The PBEye talked to Verizon Communications* Executive Vice President and General Counsel Randal Milch, whose legal department has substantial interest in pro bono.  Milch, a good friend and supporter of PBI and Corporate Pro Bono,  sums up the fundamental problems with the old rule and explains how companies like his are now freer to do the pro bono work they’ve been ready and willing to do in the state.

For more information about this issue or to join the effort to change the rules in other jurisdictions, please contact Eve Runyon, director of Corporate Pro Bono.  CPBO is a partnership project of PBI and the Association of Corporate Counsel.

*denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM

April 19, 2011

Virginia is for Pro Bono Lovers

The PBEye was delighted to see  that, effective April 15, 2011, the Virginia Supreme Court approved an amendment to its rules, removing restrictions that limited certified in-house counsel’s ability to provide pro bono work to deserving and needy clients in Virginia.  Now, certified in-house attorneys may provide pro bono service, subject only to the conditions that apply to all Virginia attorneys – the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.  This change empowers the more than 800 certified in-house attorneys in Virginia to provide desperately needed assistance to low-income individuals and organizations.  We hope this amendment will serve as an example for other jurisdictions.

Unlike many states, Virginia previously had a rule allowing in-house attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions but certified to work for a legal department in Virginia to provide pro bono.   The problem was that like nearly every state that has such a rule (the exception being Colorado), it provided for unnecessary restrictions, including a requirement that in-house counsel only provide pro bono work pursuant to an approved legal aid organization program and under the direction of a supervising attorney.  For some matters, the rules also required a letter from the pro bono client and court approval.  The impact of these restrictions was chilling and made pro bono impractical for certified in-house counsel.

Fortunately, many attorneys understood that the restrictions imposed by Virginia’s old rule were unnecessary, insulting to in-house attorneys and, given the extraordinary need for assistance, unjustifiable limitations on the provision of access to justice.  A number of those attorneys gathered nearly a year ago at Virginia’s Pro Bono Summit, including our friend Randal Milch, executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc.*  He spoke passionately about the importance of pro bono while urging the court and the bar to make the necessary changes to take advantage of the expertise of in-house lawyers.  After the summit, a taskforce composed of attorneys from the Virginia State Bar and Virginia Bar Association, with assistance from CPBO, drafted the amendment that was proposed and ultimately passed.  In CPBO’s statement applauding the amendment, Milch said:

Verizon commends the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia State Bar, and the Virginia Bar Association for so quickly changing the rules that limited the opportunities for in house counsel to provide pro bono service to Commonwealth’s neediest residents.  Virginia now stands as a leader in the cause of freeing the needlessly restricted capabilities of in house counsel to provide pro bono service.  Virginia’s new rule is an ideal model for other jurisdictions to follow.  Verizon’s attorneys in the Commonwealth look forward to expanding their pro bono work under this outstanding new regime.

For additional comments see CPBO’s complete statement here. For more information about this issue or to join the effort to change the rules in other jurisdictions, contact Eve Runyon, director, Corporate Pro Bono.

*denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM