Resolution on the Department of Veterans Affairs' Proposed Attorney Accreditation Regulation

WHEREAS, the United States Congress recently amended 38 U.S.C. §5904 to require that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prescribe regulations governing the accreditation of attorneys seeking to practice before the VA;

WHEREAS, the VA recently proposed regulations implementing §5904 that would require attorneys seeking accreditation by the VA to achieve a score of 75 percent or higher on an exam administered by the VA;

WHEREAS, 38 U.S.C. §5903, which was enacted in 1958 and was not recently amended by Congress, permits pro bono attorneys to represent a veteran before the VA on “any particular claim for benefits”;

WHEREAS, 38 U.S.C. §5903 does not require a pro bono attorney to sit for an accreditation exam;

WHEREAS, VA regulations have, without explanation, always interpreted 38 U.S.C. §5903 to permit pro bono representation on only one claim;

WHEREAS, the VA’s proposed regulations do not propose to eliminate the one claim limitation for pro bono attorneys;

WHEREAS, the combined effect of the VA’s current and proposed rules would be to require that all pro bono attorneys desiring to represent more than one veteran achieve a score of 75 or higher on the VA’s accreditation exam;

WHEREAS, all attorneys licensed to practice law by the State of Pennsylvania have graduated from an accredited law school and passed a bar examination;

WHEREAS, all attorneys licensed to practice law by the State of Pennsylvania must, under Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, provide competent representation to all clients, which requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation necessary for the representation;

WHEREAS, a large number of homeless and indigent veterans in Philadelphia rely on pro bono attorneys to help them with their claims for VA benefits;

WHEREAS, the number of lawyers committed to providing homeless and indigent veterans with pro bono representation before the VA is growing rapidly in Philadelphia and all along the east coast of the United States;

WHEREAS, the vast majority of pro bono attorneys who provide representation to a homeless or indigent veteran return to represent additional veterans on their claims for VA benefits;

WHEREAS, if pro bono attorneys seeking to work on more than one VA claim are required to sit for an accreditation exam, the number of pro bono attorneys willing to take on such representation will sharply decline;

WHEREAS, if the number of pro bono attorneys willing to represent homeless or indigent veterans significantly declines, it is unlikely that these veterans will retain paid attorneys to help them with their VA claims.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Chancellor, or her designee, shall make known the substance of this resolution to the President of the United States, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and all members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, and urge the adoption of VA regulations that permit pro bono attorneys to provide unlimited representation before the Department without having to pass an accreditation examination.

PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: JUNE 28, 2007