The DC Court of Appeals issued two orders earlier this month that will likely have a significant effect on the provision of civil legal services in the District of Columbia. The rules changes that were announced in the orders, which go into effect January 1, 2019, enjoyed the broad support of the DC Access to Justice Commission, the DC Consortium of Legal Services Providers, and the Washington Council of Lawyers, among others.
One of the orders announced amendments to DC Court of Appeals Rule 49(c)(9), which will expand the circumstances under which individuals not yet admitted to the DC Bar, or who are inactive or retired members of the DC Bar or the bar of another state, can engage in the practice of pro bono or public interest law in the District. Specifically, the new rule will allow for inactive or retired members of the DC Bar or the bar of another state, and attorneys admitted in other states, to engage in pro bono work affiliated with a DC non-profit providing legal services to individuals of limited means, as long as they are in good standing and supervised by a member of the DC Bar. In addition, the new rule will also allow attorneys affiliated with or employed by the Public Defender Service or non-profit organizations that provide legal services, and who have submitted their application to the DC Bar, to practice law until their application is approved or denied (removing a prior 360-day limit to such practice). And law school graduates affiliated with or employed by these organizations who have taken a bar exam but have not received results may also provide legal services under certain conditions and appropriate supervision. Finally, the amendments will also simplify the administrative and formal notice requirements to practice pro bono publico.
The other order announced amendments to Rule 1.2 of the DC Rules of Professional Conduct to allow lawyers to limit the “scope” of a representation with a client’s informed consent “if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances.” These changes relate back to the work of a joint “Limited Scope” Working Group of the DC Access to Justice Commission and the DC Bar Pro Bono Center. The addition of the “reasonable under the circumstances” language, which the Working Group had recommended and both the Consortium and the Commission supported, mirrors the ABA Model Rule.
Legal Aid thanks the DC Court of Appeals, the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, and the many others who assisted in the development of these proposals and in their careful consideration. We are hopeful that these changes in the rules will help further expand access to justice by not only increasing the number of people who can provide legal services but also expanding the ways to deliver those legal services to the communities and individuals who need them most.