by Brian Connor
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (March 27, 2019) ― For the first time ever, the Virginia Access to Justice Commission held one of its quarterly meetings outside the state capital of Richmond. The prestigious group’s Strategic Planning Committee chose to usher in this new era at Regent University.
In addition to the Commission’s meeting, Regent hosted a luncheon for attendees in the Library Atrium and a pro bono summit in the Moot Courtroom of Robertson Hall. The summit brought together state and federal judges, two Justices of the Supreme Court of Virginia, professors and deans from area law schools, local attorneys and other legal professionals to highlight pro bono legal service efforts and coordination in Hampton Roads. In total, nearly 170 people across the legal spectrum were represented.
The School of Law’s newly installed dean, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina Mark Martin, said he was honored that Regent was chosen to host the events. After attending the Commission’s morning meeting as a guest of Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Martin told those gathered at the luncheon that pro bono work was an issue he cared greatly about, adding that the School of Law was willing to serve “in each and every way” possible.
“We at Regent are totally committed to pro bono and access-to-justice efforts in the State of Virginia,” Martin explained. “We encourage our students to perform at least 30 hours of pro bono service and 20 additional hours of community service during their time here as a student. Students who fulfill this pro bono and community service expectation are recognized at the law school commissioning service during graduation.”
Robert O’Donnell, a partner at the Vandeventer Black law firm, served as keynote speaker for the luncheon. He noted that the sense of duty being instilled in law school students to perform pro bono legal services is “something new and something great.” He added, “It has become part of their DNA. I think it will be incumbent upon us in law firms to foster and develop that enthusiasm that we see in our young lawyers.”
After the luncheon, Justice D. Arthur Kelsey of the Supreme Court of Virginia began the Pro Bono Summit with his thoughts on the importance of making justice accessible to everyone regardless of their economic condition. “Someone without access to food is going to starve. Someone without access to oxygen is going to suffocate. What happens to someone without access to justice?” Kelsey asked. “Injustice. Inaccessible justice is quite simply and by definition ‘injustice.’”
He continued, “For many centuries, lawyers, patriots, judges, scholars, even brick masons have invested their time, treasure and, sometimes, even their lives … to bequeath to you a society in which the rule of law is honored, in which justice is the birthright of every American, and for which you must strive daily to protect and secure.”
The moderator for the summit’s first session, The Role of Law Schools in Pro Bono, was Davison Douglas, dean of William & Mary Law School. Panelists included Patricia Roberts, vice dean of William & Mary Law School, and Kathleen McKee, associate professor for Regent University School of Law. They examined how law schools can cultivate in their students a long-term commitment to pro bono legal services. All three agreed that today’s students want to do something and be a part of something good. They also recognized the role pro bono legal services play in meeting the great need that exists for equal access to justice.
“We don’t take a case because we think we’re going to win it,” McKee insisted. “We take the case, sometimes, because we realize the client will not have a say in the process without an advocate.”
Session two focused on The Role of the Bench and the Bar in coordinating, fostering and encouraging pro bono work among members of the Virginia Bar in Hampton Roads. Crista Gantz, Access to Legal Services director for the Virginia State Bar, served as moderator for a panel that included two graduates of Regent Law. Jennifer Shupert (’03) of the Shupert Chaing law firm and chair of the Pro Bono Class Program for the Virginia Beach Bar Association and Tameeka Montgomery Williams (’04), director of Pro Bono and Private Attorney Involvement for the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, joined the Honorable David Lannetti, Judge for the Norfolk Circuit Court and the Honorable Stephen St. John, Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Delivering the summit’s closing remarks, Justice Goodwyn called on those in attendance to understand that they have an obligation to improve access to justice and to ensure that everyone is treated the same under the law. “We can never forget that, as lawyers and as judges, we occupy a special position in our society,” he explained. “It is a fundamental truth that our common ideal of equal justice for all is threatened if people don’t have meaningful access to the courts. … We’re the only people who can do it. So, it’s up to us.”
Nicole Harrell of the law firm Kaufman & Canoles coordinated all three events with the help of Regent Law staff and student volunteers: “I was really pleased … It goes to show, with justices and judges in the room, that people are recognizing the need to do more.”
“Regent Law’s presence in our legal community is huge,” Williams said immediately after the summit. “And I think today shows that’s the case because this was a really successful event.”
Shupert added, “As an alumnus, it was really fulfilling to participate in the summit. I’m excited to see Regent continue to be an advocate for pro bono services and, also, to see how well connected they are. To have two Virginia Supreme Court Justices here was amazing. … Regent has really melded its place in this area of the law. If anyone should be championing pro bono, it should be us.”
The Supreme Court of Virginia established the Access to Justice Commission in September 2013. The group includes judges, lawyers and other professionals whose mission is “to promote equal access to justice in Virginia, with particular emphasis on the civil legal needs of Virginia residents.”
Founded in 1978, Regent University has 11,000 students studying on its 70-acre campus in Virginia Beach, Va., and online around the world. The university offers associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from a Christian perspective in more than 130 program areas including business, communication and the arts, cybersecurity and technology, divinity, education, government, law, leadership, nursing and healthcare, and psychology. Currently, Regent University tops the list of Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Virginia and is ranked among top national universities by U.S. News & World Report.
The Regent University School of Law opened in 1986 and is fully approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Regent Law’s more than 3,300 graduates practice law in 49 states and more than 20 countries and include 38 sitting judges. The school is uniquely built upon a Christ-centered mission, first-rate faculty, and an exceptional academic program to develop highly skilled, purpose-driven graduates who impact the world.