Virginia Lawyer


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 71

President's Message by George Warren Shanks The Price of Freedom I HAVE BEEN MEETING with local and regional bars throughout the com- monwealth for the last eight months in an effort to remind attorneys in active practice that our organization and our profession are unique in Virginia. It is this status that causes confusion and misunderstanding among those out- side the profession. We need to remember—and we need to tell all within hearing of our collective voices—that the Virginia State Bar is the only fully self-funded, fully self-regulated profession in the commonwealth. This is an unusual hybrid status: we are a state agency and prohibited from political lobbying activities, but we are not part of the executive branch. Our employees are state employees, but not paid with tax dollars. Our meetings are open to the public and our internal communica- tions are subject to the Freedom of Information Act,1 but our membership is severely restricted. The Virginia State Bar was created in 1938 by an act of the General Assembly as an arm of the Supreme Court of Virginia. In so doing, our profession became part of and under the direct and exclusive control of the Court. We are part of the judicial branch of government,2 not the exec- utive or legislative branches. The attendant financial realities were immediately apparent and in 1939 the General Assembly passed leg- islation to place our funds in a discrete account under the supervision of the Comptroller of the Commonwealth, whose task it is to monitor and account for all funds from whatever source flowing through Virginia's three branches of government. That State 14 VIRGINIA LAWYER | February 2012 | Vol. 60 Bar Fund is used to receive and expend all the money raised by the Virginia State Bar for carrying out its core mis- sions. And in the grand scheme of things, what we propose to spend from our money must be submitted in a budget, approved by the Supreme Court, to the General Assembly, to be considered along with all the other budget requests coming before that body, whether proposed by the execu- tive branch, the judicial branch or initi- ated sua sponte by members of the legislative branch. Our funds contain no taxpayer dollars, no general revenue funds, no money appropriated by the Virginia General Assembly from whatever rev- enue-producing sources they have identified for the administration of government. We receive no general rev- enue funds for the operation of the bar. Not one penny. None. Our funding comes only from our member dues.3 And they are held in the State Bar Fund for the sole purpose of funding the operations of the bar. To the extent there is a surplus from year to year, it is retained for future bar operations and purposes. We in the legal profession call this type of account a trust account: money received for a particular purpose which must be accounted for and expended for that purpose alone. Our funds, operating and surplus, are trust money. Not tax dollars. That is the origin of the "fully self- funded" part of our unique status. It seems such a simple concept that no one could misunderstand it. But like the Pledge of Allegiance, it bears repeating. Often. Self-regulation also came with our creation as part of the judicial branch of government. Our rules of governance are contained in Part Six of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia. And in stating it that way I have already made the casual semantic slip that causes so much confusion: they are not "our" rules; they are the Supreme Court's Rules. We may propose changes to the rules and we regularly do. In Bar Council we debate these changes, sometimes with great passion. We engage in the democratic process as we address the fundamental policies and precepts by which we must be guided in the practice of law. But when the dust settles, these proposals are submit- ted to the Supreme Court for approval and only after that approval do they become "our" rules. Our self-regulatory powers are embodied in Part 6, Section IV, Paragraph 13 Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the process and pro- cedure for lawyer discipline. We alone are in charge of this vital function, first among equals in our core missions of professional regulation, public access to legal services, and improving the legal system. The process has become more "transparent" over time: our discipli- nary bodies include lay members, public disclosure of allegations occurs earlier in the process than when I first began my practice, and hearings have been opened to the public. But in the final analysis, we regulate ourselves. This is not a func- tion we should willingly cede to any other body or branch of government. Our current annual budget is about $12.5 million. We have ninety- President's Message continued on page 65

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Virginia Lawyer - VaLawyer_Feb2012