Code of Virginia

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Code of Virginia
Title 54.1. Professions and Occupations
Chapter 39. Attorneys
11/28/2020

Article 1. General Provisions.

§ 54.1-3900. Practice of law; student internship program; definition.

Persons who hold a license or certificate to practice law under the laws of this Commonwealth and have paid the license tax prescribed by law may practice law in the Commonwealth.

Any person authorized and practicing as counsel or attorney in any state or territory of the United States, or in the District of Columbia, may for the purpose of attending to any case he may occasionally have in association with a practicing attorney of this Commonwealth practice in the courts of this Commonwealth, in which case no license fee shall be chargeable against such nonresident attorney.

Nothing herein shall prohibit the limited practice of law by military legal assistance attorneys who are employed by a military program providing legal services to low-income military clients and their dependents pursuant to rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Nothing herein shall prohibit a limited practice of law under the supervision of a practicing attorney by (i) third-year law students or (ii) persons who are in the final year of a program of study as authorized in § 54.1-3926, pursuant to rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Nothing herein shall prohibit an employee of a state agency in the course of his employment from representing the interests of his agency in administrative hearings before any state agency, such representation to be limited to the examination of witnesses at administrative hearings relating to personnel matters and the adoption of agency standards, policies, rules and regulations.

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of the Department of Social Services from completing, signing and filing petitions and motions relating to the establishment, modification, or enforcement of support on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia in Department cases in the juvenile and domestic relations district courts.

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services from appearing before an intake officer to initiate a case in accordance with subsection A of § 16.1-260 on behalf of the local department of social services.

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services from completing, signing, and filing with the clerk of the juvenile and domestic relations district court, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, or motions for a rule to show cause.

Nothing herein shall prohibit a nonattorney attendance officer, or a local school division superintendent or his designee when acting as an attendance officer pursuant to § 22.1-258, from completing, signing, and filing with the intake officer of a juvenile and domestic relations district court, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, a petition for a violation of a school attendance order entered by a juvenile and domestic relations district court pursuant to § 16.1-278.5 in response to the filing of a petition alleging the pupil is a child in need of supervision as defined in § 16.1-228.

As used in this chapter "attorney" means attorney-at-law.

Code 1950, § 54-42; 1972, c. 391; 1974, c. 456; 1976, c. 277; 1988, c. 765; 1991, c. 650; 1994, c. 30; 1998, c. 796; 2008, cc. 136, 845; 2016, c. 704; 2020, cc. 105, 106.

§ 54.1-3900.01. Protection of client interests; appointment of receiver for practice of a disabled, impaired, absent, deceased, suspended or disbarred attorney.

A. Upon a showing that an attorney is unable to properly discharge responsibilities to clients by reason of the attorney's disability, impairment, absence or death or that a suspended or disbarred attorney has not complied with Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13 M of the Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court, and that no responsible party capable of properly discharging the attorney's responsibilities to clients is known to exist, the circuit court of any city or county wherein the attorney resides, or in the case of a deceased attorney resided, or maintained an office, upon the ex parte petition of Bar Counsel may issue an order appointing one or more attorneys to serve as receiver with the powers and duties specified in this section. The court, in its discretion, may require a receiver appointed pursuant to this section to post bond, with or without surety. The court may issue such order if the petition, supported by affidavit of the petitioner and such other evidence as the court may require, shows reasonable cause to believe that by reason of the subject attorney's disability, impairment, absence, or death, the subject attorney is unable to properly discharge his responsibilities to clients; or that the subject attorney's law license has been suspended or revoked and the subject attorney has not complied with Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13 M of the Rules of Supreme Court; and that no responsible party capable of properly discharging the subject attorney's responsibilities to clients is known to exist. The Virginia State Bar shall use its best efforts to provide a copy of the petition, affidavits, and notice of the time and place of any hearing to the subject attorney and any known duly appointed personal representative of the subject attorney or the subject attorney's estate.

B. Any receiver so appointed shall be bound by the attorney-client privilege and confidentiality under the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to client matters and shall not disclose any privileged or confidential client information without client consent, or as required by court order, or to respond to a Virginia State Bar disciplinary investigation or an investigation by the Virginia State Bar Clients' Protection Fund involving the subject attorney.

C. Any receiver so appointed shall, unless otherwise ordered by the court, (i) prepare and file with the Virginia State Bar an inventory of all case files under the subject attorney's control; (ii) notify in writing all of the subject attorney's clients of the appointment and take whatever action the receiver deems appropriate to protect the interests of the clients until such time as the clients have had an opportunity to obtain successor counsel, and in the case of a deceased attorney, notify in writing the personal representative, if any, of the deceased attorney's estate and the commissioner of accounts of the circuit court in which the deceased attorney's estate is being administered that the receiver may have a claim against the deceased attorney's estate for fees and costs of the receivership; (iii) identify and take control of all bank accounts, including without limitation trust and operating accounts, over which the subject attorney had signatory authority in connection with his law practice; (iv) prepare and submit an accounting of receipts and disbursements and account balances of all funds under the receiver's control for submission to the court within four months of the appointment and annually thereafter until the receivership is terminated by the court; (v) attempt to collect any accounts receivable related to the subject attorney's law practice; (vi) identify and attempt to recover any assets wrongfully diverted from the subject attorney's law practice, or assets acquired with funds wrongfully diverted from the subject attorney's law practice; (vii) terminate the subject attorney's law practice; (viii) reduce to cash all of the assets of the subject attorney's law practice, and in the case of a deceased attorney notify in writing the personal representative, if any, of the deceased attorney's estate, and the commissioner of accounts of the circuit court in which the deceased attorney's estate is being administered of any proposed liquidations of assets; (ix) determine the nature and amount of all claims of creditors, including clients, of the subject attorney's law practice; and (x) prepare and file with the court a report of such assets and claims proposing a distribution to such creditors and, in the case of a deceased attorney, notify in writing the personal representative, if any, of the deceased attorney's estate and the commissioner of accounts of the circuit court in which the deceased attorney's estate is being administered of the proposed distribution of the receivership funds. Upon the court's approval of the receiver's report, at a hearing after such notice as the court may require to creditors, the personal representative of the subject attorney's estate and the commissioner of accounts of the circuit court in which the deceased attorney's estate is being administered, the receiver shall distribute the funds in the receiver's control, including funds produced by the liquidation of the subject attorney's law practice, first to clients whose funds were or ought to have been held in trust by the subject attorney, then to the receiver for fees, costs and expenses awarded pursuant to subsection E below, and thereafter to the general creditors of the subject attorney's law practice, including clients whose funds were not required to have been held in trust by the subject attorney, and then to the subject attorney or the subject attorney's personal representative.

D. The court may determine whether any assets under the receiver's control should be returned to the subject attorney or the subject attorney's personal representative during the receivership.

E. Any receiver so appointed shall be entitled, upon proper application to the court in which the appointment was made, to recover an award of reasonable fees, costs and expenses. If there are not sufficient nontrust funds to pay the award, then the shortfall shall be paid by the Virginia State Bar, to the extent that the Virginia State Bar has funds available. The Virginia State Bar shall have a claim against the subject attorney or the attorney's estate for the amount paid.

F. This statute is declared to be remedial. Its purpose is to protect the interests of clients adversely affected by attorneys who have either engaged in misconduct or because of disability, impairment, absence, or death are unable to provide legal services for their clients. It is to be liberally administered in order to protect those interests and thereby the public's interest in the quality of legal services provided by Virginia attorneys.

1988, c. 425, § 54-42.01; 1997, c. 239; 2005, cc. 184, 212.

§ 54.1-3901. Practice of patent law.

A. For the purposes of this section "an attorney recognized to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office in patent cases" is defined as anyone who is authorized to practice law in any state or territory of the United States, or the District of Columbia, and who is also entitled under the rules of that Office to represent another in patent cases. The "practice of patent law" is defined as the performance of all necessary professional services with respect to patent matters concerning which being recognized to practice before that Office for the performance of such services is required and includes legal services related to or connected with the practice of patent law.

B. Any attorney who is admitted as an active member of the Virginia State Bar, limited to patent, trademark, copyright and unfair competition cases only, as of July 1, 2000, may continue such active membership subject to compliance with minimum requirements of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

C. This section shall not authorize a person recognized to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office in patent cases to appear in any court or tribunal other than the tribunals of that Office, unless the person is an active member of the Virginia State Bar, generally or an active member of the Virginia State Bar limited to patent, trademark, copyright and unfair competition cases only as of July 1, 2000. This section shall not be construed to limit the admission to practice law as an active member of the Virginia State Bar generally of any person otherwise qualified for general admission.

D. No attorney who is not an active member of the Virginia State Bar, whether or not authorized to practice before that Office in patent cases, shall be deemed to be admitted to practice patent law within the meaning of subdivision B 1 of § 54.1-3902 or duly licensed or otherwise legally authorized to practice law within the meaning of § 13.1-544.

1962, c. 389, § 54-42.1; 1968, c. 10; 1974, c. 597; 1981, c. 103; 1982, c. 633; 1988, c. 765; 2000, c. 355.

§ 54.1-3902. Professional corporations; professional limited liability companies; and registered limited liability partnerships.

A. No professional corporation organized or qualifying under the provisions of Chapter 7 (§ 13.1-542 et seq.) of Title 13.1, professional limited liability company organized or qualifying under the provisions of Chapter 13 (§ 13.1-1100 et seq.) of Title 13.1, or registered limited liability partnership registered under the provisions of Article 9.1 (§ 50-73.132 et seq.) of Chapter 2.2 of Title 50 shall render the professional services of attorneys in this Commonwealth unless the professional corporation, professional limited liability company, or registered limited liability partnership is registered under this section.

B. A professional corporation organized or qualifying under the provisions of Chapter 7 of Title 13.1, a professional limited liability company organized or qualifying under the provisions of Chapter 13 of Title 13.1, or a registered limited liability partnership registered under the provisions of Article 9.1 (§ 50-73.132 et seq.) of Chapter 2.2 of Title 50 shall be issued a professional corporation, a professional limited liability company, or a registered limited liability partnership registration certificate by the Virginia State Bar upon application and payment of a registration fee of $100 provided that:

1. Each member, manager, partner, employee or agent of the professional corporation, the professional limited liability company, or the registered limited liability partnership who will practice law in Virginia is an active member of the Virginia State Bar, or otherwise legally authorized to practice law in Virginia, except that nothing herein shall prohibit a nonlicensed individual from serving as secretary, treasurer, office manager or business manager of any such corporation, limited liability company, or registered limited liability partnership; and

2. The name of the professional corporation, the professional limited liability company, or the registered limited liability partnership and the conduct of its practice conform with the ethical standards which the shareholders, members, managers, partners, employees and agents are required to observe in the practice of law or patent law as defined in § 54.1-3901 in this Commonwealth and that, in the case of a corporation, the corporate name complies with subsection A of § 13.1-630; in the case of a limited liability company, the limited liability company name complies with subsection A of § 13.1-1012; and, in the case of a registered limited liability partnership, the registered limited liability partnership name complies with § 50-73.133.

C. Professional corporation, professional limited liability company, and registered limited liability partnership registration certificates shall be renewed biennially for a fee of $50.

1962, c. 389, § 54-42.1; 1968, c. 10; 1973, c. 484, § 54-42.2; 1974, c. 597; 1981, cc. 103, 516; 1982, c. 633; 1988, c. 765; 1992, c. 574; 1995, c. 116; 2000, c. 355; 2006, cc. 198, 230.

§ 54.1-3903. Oath; qualification; proof of licensure or authorization.

Before an attorney may practice in any court in the Commonwealth, he shall take the oath of fidelity to the Commonwealth, stating that he will honestly demean himself in the practice of law and execute his office of attorney-at-law to the best of his ability. An attorney who has qualified before the Supreme Court of Virginia shall be qualified to practice in all courts of the Commonwealth. An attorney who has qualified before a court other than the Supreme Court shall be qualified to practice only in the court which administered his oath.

Each court in which an attorney intends to practice may require the attorney to produce satisfactory evidence of his licensure or authorization.

Code 1950, § 54-43; 1972, c. 131; 1988, c. 765.

§ 54.1-3904. Penalty for practicing without authority.

Any person who practices law without being authorized or licensed shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A collection agency may refer debts to an attorney for collection with the creditor's approval of the referral and the fee arrangement and shall not be deemed to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. An attorney is permitted by the creditor's authorization to enter into such representation agreements.

Code 1950, § 54-44; 1988, c. 765; 1994, c. 441.

§ 54.1-3905. Furnishing advice and services for compensation in connection with certain debt-pooling plans deemed practicing law.

The furnishing of advice or services for compensation to a debtor in connection with a debt-pooling plan pursuant to which the debtor deposits funds for the purpose of distributing them among his creditors, except as authorized for persons licensed pursuant to § 6.2-2005, shall be deemed to be practicing law. Any person or agency not so authorized or who is not a member of the Virginia State Bar who furnishes or offers to furnish such advice or services for compensation shall be in violation of this section. However, it shall not constitute the practice of law merely to make or undertake to make payments to creditors on behalf of debtors, provided any person or agency that does so does not also negotiate with creditors, undertake to negotiate with creditors, or hold itself out as undertaking to negotiate with creditors on behalf of one or more debtors. Any person who violates this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

1956, c. 584, § 54-44.1; 1975, c. 645; 1988, c. 765; 1994, c. 567; 2004, c. 790.

§ 54.1-3906. Liability to client.

Every attorney shall be liable to his client for any damage sustained by the client through the neglect of his duty as such attorney.

Code 1950, § 54-46; 1988, c. 765; 2011, c. 703.

§ 54.1-3907. Reasonable care of attorney in selection of index.

Any attorney who in the examination of records in the office of the clerk of any court in this Commonwealth relies upon the correctness of any index found in such office, whether it is the original index prepared by the clerk or by persons other than the clerk, shall be deemed to have used reasonable care in the selection of the index.

1960, c. 441, § 54-44.2; 1988, c. 765.

§ 54.1-3908. Liability for words used in proceedings concerning conduct.

No person shall be held liable in any civil action for words written or spoken in any complaint regarding, proceeding concerning, or investigation of, the professional conduct of any member of the Virginia State Bar, unless it is shown that such statements were false and were made willfully and maliciously.

Code 1950, § 54-47; 1988, c. 765; 1992, c. 574; 1996, c. 399.