These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
 Back to main menu

  Print This Leo
LEO NumTopicsSummary


51-Government Attorneys

All lawyers, including public defenders representing indigent persons under court appointment or government contract, must provide competent and diligent representation. Because "a lawyer's primary ethical duty is owed to existing clients," the lawyer must decline to accept new cases if the lawyer cannot adequately handle those cases. Lawyers who receive cases from the court should ask the court not to assign new cases, or move to withdraw from cases. A public defender or law firm member facing this situation should work with a supervisor to avoid an excessive case load, and continue to advance up the "chain of command" as much as possible. Normally, a lawyer's supervisor's resolution of a case load issue will constitute a "reasonable resolution of an arguable question of professional duty" under Model Rule 5.2(b). If the supervisor's response is not reasonable, the lawyer should go up the chain of command or file a motion with the trial court. If the court refuses to allow the lawyer to withdraw, the lawyer must continue with the representation while "taking all steps reasonably feasible to insure that her client receives competent and diligent representation." Lawyers who supervise public defenders must monitor the public defenders' work load and make reasonable efforts to avoid excessive case loads.

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn