[Posted February 18, 2007] The Supreme Court of Virginia has approved the creation of a panel of attorneys willing to accept assignments in civil appeals where one party is indigent and unrepresented. Effective immediately, the program will ensure that both sides of an appeal are professionally briefed and argued.

The program, which is outlined in detail below, calls for the creation of two lists, one comprising experienced appellate lawyers, and one with those who are looking for an opportunity to gain such experience. One attorney from each list will be assigned to each case, thus giving those in the second group an opportunity to learn on-the-job from someone who knows the appellate ropes.

The program only addresses purely civil cases; the Commonwealth already funds programs to pay for attorneys in criminal and habeas corpus cases.

I have volunteered to work with the Clerk of the Supreme Court to populate the lists, and respectfully solicit your help with that. If you’re licensed in Virginia and you’d like to be on either list, please contact me (please give me your name, phone number, e-mail address, and which list you’d occupy), and I’ll ensure that you’re included in the program.

If you need any further impetus to consider the value of this fine work, I encourage you to take a look at Rule 6.1(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Thanks in advance for your help.

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1. To ensure that each side of all civil appeals in the Supreme Court, where one of the parties is an indigent proceeding pro se, receives professionally prepared briefing and oral argument at the merits stage.

2. To enable appellate attorneys to fulfill the requirements of Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (2% of time devoted to pro bono work).

3. To enable attorneys to gain experience in the handling of appellate cases, with the secondary goal of improving the quality of appellate advocacy overall, through the use of a mentoring model, which pairs two attorneys in each case.

Scope of Anticipated Need

The Clerk estimates that counsel will be needed three to four times per year, based on historical experience.


Create a panel of attorneys willing to appear in such cases on a pro bono basis. The core group will comprise at least twelve experienced appellate practitioners (so no one of them will be called upon more often than once every three to four years). A second group will be open to less experienced attorneys (including seasoned trial lawyers without significant appellate experience), without limitation in number.

When the Court awards an appeal in which one side is an indigent party unrepresented by counsel, and the Court determines it would be beneficial to provide representation for that party, the Clerk will contact the party to determine if he/she is willing to have pro bono counsel to provide representation. If the party consents, the Clerk will then contact one attorney from the core group and one from the second group to ascertain if they are willing to accept the case. Upon confirmation from counsel of their willingness to accept the case, the Clerk then will enter the order granting the appeal and forward a copy of the order to counsel assigned to that side of the case. This arrangement fosters learning through mentoring; enables the attorneys to share the workload in the case; and permits two different perspectives in shaping the course of the representation.

Nature of the Assignment

The two attorneys from the Panel will serve as counsel of record for the prose party. The entry of the grant order, upon confirmation of the assignment of the Panel attorneys to the appeal, will begin the period for filing of the brief of appellant under Rule 5:26(b)(1), in the event the panel attorneys represent the appellant. The Court may extend the due date for the brief of appellant upon application by the assigned attorneys.


The panel will be administered by the Clerk of the Supreme Court, with the assistance of the chair of the State Bar’s Appellate Practice Subcommittee. The Clerk will assign attorneys to cases and transmit to them copies of briefs and other papers necessary to effectuate the representation of the party or the filing of the amicus brief.