The Virginia Freedom of Information Act

Requesters’ Rights and the Virginia State Bar’s Responsibilities

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA), § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and media representatives’ access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.

A public record is any writing or recording — regardless of whether it is a paper record, electronic file, audio or video recording, or any other format — that is prepared, owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees, or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.

VFOIA’s purpose is to promote increased awareness of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, VFOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.

The Virginia State Bar (VSB) has a designated VFOIA Officer to whom requests for records should be sent and who can answer questions regarding the VSB’s processing of VFOIA requests or direct you to external resources to address other questions. Contact the VFOIA Officer at: [email protected].

Submit a VFOIA Request

Your FOIA Rights

  • You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  • You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • If you believe that your VFOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with VFOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the VFOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.

Submitting a Request for Virginia State Bar Records

  • When submitting a request for public records, your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
  • Your request must ask for existing records or documents. VFOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the VSB and does not require the VSB to create a record that does not exist.
  • VFOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under VFOIA. You may request records by U.S. Mail, fax, email, in person, or over the phone.
    • From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives the VSB a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, the VSB cannot refuse to respond to your VFOIA request if it is not in writing.
  • You may choose the format in which you would like to receive the records from any format that is used by the VSB in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel spreadsheet, you may elect to receive those records electronically via email, on a thumb drive, or as a printed copy.

If we have questions about your request, the VSB VFOIA Officer or designee will contact you and attempt to clarify the type of records that you are seeking. It there are delays or confusion regarding your request, the VSB VFOIA Officer or designate will contact you to reach a reasonable agreement about the response. Making a VFOIA request is not an adversarial process; we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.

You may direct your request for records from the VSB to Kristi Hall, VFOIA Officer, at 1111 E. Main Street, Suite 700, Richmond, VA 23219-0026, (804) 775-0557, [email protected]. You may also contact us with any questions you have concerning requesting records from the VSB.

In addition, the VFOIA Council is available to answer any questions you may have about VFOIA. The council may be contacted by email at [email protected] or by phone at (866) 448-4100.

To submit feedback on the VSB’s response to your records request, please fill out the Public Comment Form available on the VFOIA Council's website.

The Virginia State Bar’s Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request

  • The VSB must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
  • You do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. VFOIA does, however, allow the VSB to require you to provide your name and legal address.
  • VFOIA requires that the VSB make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
    • We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
    • We withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. That response must (i) identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld and (ii) state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
    • We provide some of the records that you have requested but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
    • We inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you want). However, if we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
    • If it is practically impossible for the VSB to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of twelve working days to respond to your request.
  • If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within twelve working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, the VSB will contact you and make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production of the records. If an agreement is unable to be reached, the VSB will petition the court for additional time to respond to your request.

Costs for Records Requests

  • The VSB may assess reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. The VSB is prohibited from imposing any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the VSB. Any duplicating fee charged will not exceed the actual cost of duplication. VSB is further prohibited from charging any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the VSB.
  • Requesting a cost estimate: You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs upfront or give you the opportunity to modify your request if you want to lower the estimated costs. The timeline of the request will be put on hold until the requester indicates whether to proceed with the request based on the estimate.
  • You may have to pay for the actual costs of producing the records that you request from the VSB. This would include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. Generally, if the request will take less than 30 minutes of staff time to respond, the VSB will not assess costs. At all times, the VSB will take all reasonable efforts to provide the records at the lowest possible cost. The VSB calculates costs as follows:
    • (i) The request is forwarded to the appropriate department with a deadline to fulfill the request or provide a cost estimate; (ii) the department head will estimate the amount of time necessary to access, duplicate, supply, search for, and redact, if necessary, the requested records; (iii) the department will provide an hourly rate for the employee that has the minimum level of expertise to fulfill the request; and (iv) the cost of the staff time is calculated by multiplying the estimated number of hours by the hourly rate.
    • Any copying and mailing costs will be estimated and added to the total cost estimate. These will only be assessed on public records that are printed. Copies are assessed as follows: black and white copy at $0.08/page; color copy at $0.15/page.
    • If the department does not have the adequate resources to fulfill the request, the department works with human resources to estimate an hourly rate for a temporary employee and timeframe for hiring.
    • The VFOIA Officer will provide the requester with the cost estimate.
  • If the estimated costs to respond to your request is more than $200.00, the VSB may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the full amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The deposit shall be credited toward the final cost of supplying the requested records. In the event the actual cost of providing the records is less than the deposit, the difference must be refunded to the requester. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
  • The timeline of the request will be put on hold until the requester indicates whether to proceed with the request based on the estimate. If we do not receive a response from the requester within 30 days of sending the cost estimate, the request will be considered withdrawn.
  • If you owe the VSB money from a previous VFOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than thirty days, the VSB may require payment of the past-due bill before we will respond to your new VFOIA request.

Types of Records

The following is a general description of the types of records held by the VSB:

  • Records that are generated by VSB staff, officers, volunteers, and agents in the normal conduct of business;
  • Personnel records concerning the VSB employees and officials;
  • Records of contracts to which the VSB is a party;
  • Attorney membership, dues, mandatory continuing legal education, and discipline records; and
  • Records of deliberations, memoranda, minutes, and opinions of the VSB committees, boards, conferences, and sections.

If you are unsure whether the VSB has the record(s) you seek, please contact Kristi Hall, VFOIA Officer, by mail at 1111 E. Main Street, Suite 700, Richmond, VA 23219-0026, by phone at (804) 775-0557, or by email at [email protected].

Commonly Used Exemptions

The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. As follows are some of the exemptions applicable to the VSB:

  • Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia).
  • Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3)).
  • Records of tests or examinations used, administered, or prepared by the VSB to evaluate employees’ or employment seekers’ qualifications or aptitude for employment, retention, or promotion (§ 2.2-3705.1 (4)).
  • Lawyer email addresses (§ 2.2-3705.1(10)).
  • Vendor proprietary information software (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6)).
  • Computer software developed by or for a state agency (§ 2.2-3705.1 (7)).
  • Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12)).
  • Records containing account numbers or routing information for any credit or debit card or account with a financial institution of any person or public body (§ 2.2-3705.1 (13)).
  • Records relating to fee dispute resolution as specifically set forth at the Virginia Administrative Dispute Resolution Act, § 2.2-4119.
  • Records pertaining to deliberations of the VSB Ethics Committee and to confidential informal ethics staff advice to lawyers as provided at the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Part Six, Section IV, Paragraphs 10-2 and 10-5.
  • Records pertaining to attorney disciplinary matters as set forth at the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 13. See Part 6, Section IV, Paragraph 13-30.
  • Lawyers’ names and addresses in certain circumstances, as set forth at the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, Part Six, Section IV, Paragraph 3.

Policy Regarding the Use of Exemptions

  • The VSB invokes the exemptions provided for in VFOIA, including those exemptions that exist in the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, as necessary to protect the confidentiality of the disciplinary system and ethics committee deliberations and informal staff opinions. The VSB balances its obligations under VFOIA with its statutory obligations and its duties as set forth in the Code of Virginia and the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia.