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Doris Causey's Welcome Comments
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May it please the Court? My name is Doris Henderson Causey. I am a managing attorney for Central Virginia Legal Aid Society and the president of the Virginia State Bar.

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was not born when Dr. King was assassinated. However, I am truly grateful and thankful for him.

I stand here today, where Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia began. Both had significant impacts on my life and education. It’s all amazing.

Because today I stand before the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Virginia as the only person in this Commonwealth elected to speak as a representative on behalf of ALL Virginia lawyers!

I AM THE DREAM!

I am so proud to be a Virginia lawyer. Lawyers are special, because we are not only business professionals but also officers of the court. In Rule 6.1 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia we are asked to perform pro bono services – to actively give away a percentage of our craft. No banker, engineer, accountant, or doctor has a similar charge. The Court calls us to this higher duty because our mission field is great, and we are unique stewards. We all have been assigned to deal with the problems of the poor.

We study three years, pass a bar exam, train under senior lawyers, and take CLEs each year to refresh our skills. We are specially qualified to practice law. And yet, low-income Virginias are asked every day to represent themselves in civil cases. For example, when the ex-husband of a low-income parent loses his/her job, they very well may be summoned to court for a custody and child support reduction proceeding. Or someone has frozen your bank account or garnished your wages. They have to practice law in their defense – just like us! Help!

Exactly. HELP. That is what Rule 6.1 calls us all to do. Help where we can. But HELP. We need all of you! The problem of self-represented litigants is a challenge we cannot minimize, and certainly one we cannot ignore.

We believe we do well in Virginia with pro bono commitment, but we have no way to measure our obedience to the Court’s admonition in Rule 6.1.

I have spent my presidential year raising consciousness about the need for even more pro bono work, but although the leader of the State Bar, neither I nor any other practicing lawyer create the rules governing the Bar that I lead. Virginia law assigns that duty exclusively to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Court, thank you for voting to invite voluntary reporting of pro bono. That will go a long way to educating members of the bar about Rule 6.1, and the duties detailed within the rule. It will also help to normalize the process of reporting on the pro bono work that is so critical to access to justice.

With voluntary reporting, our work is not done. We need a more effective way to measure and manage pro bono contributions than voluntary reporting.

We live in times when political issues divide us into camps that are polarized and partisan. I am here to affirm that pro bono is not one of those political issues. Almost every Virginia lawyer you will talk to believes in the ideal of pro bono. The concept of pro bono is a universal winner.

As a Supreme Court, you have assembled excellent advisers on pro bono matters. The Access to Justice Commission about which Justice Goodwyn will report today is the ideal “think tank” to provide the Court with well-researched ideas for improving the performance and measurement of pro bono, and you have assembled some dedicated, caring people on that Commission. I hope the Court will interact with its Commission fully, providing tasks to the Commission of interest to the Court, and questioning the Commission closely on issues. I hope you interact with and integrate the Commission into the very life of the Court. Only then will Bench and Bar lead as one on the critical issue of pro bono investment.

Ask Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The question today is not what pro bono work have I done. It’s the thought that, If I do not do pro bono work—what will happen?

Thank you for all you are doing to preside wisely and knowingly over our Bar culture. After all, you – not I – are the ultimate leaders of our Virginia State Bar. I thank you and wish for us all a most productive Pro Bono Summit.

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