Third-Year Practice Certificate

In their third-year of law school, students can obtain third-year practice certificates, which allow them to appear before local courts and administrative agencies.

Every student engaged in third-year practice is required to read the applicable rules for the Virginia state courts and the federal court. Highlights of the rules are outlined below, but these highlights are not intended as a substitute for reading the actual rules.

State Courts

Virginia's Third-Year Practice Rule requires a judge's written consent for a student to appear in court. In addition, an eligible law student may, in the presence of a supervising lawyer, appear in any court or before an administrative tribunal on behalf of a person if the person on whose behalf the student is to appear has given written consent to the appearance.

An eligible law student may also, in the presence of a supervising lawyer, appear in any criminal matter on behalf of the Commonwealth with the written approval of the prosecuting attorney or an authorized representative.

The written consent and approval of the person or entity on whose behalf the student appears shall be filed in the record of the case and shall be brought to the attention of the judge of the court or the presiding officer of the administrative tribunal.

See Code of Virginia, Rules of Virginia Supreme Court, Vol. 11, Pt. 6, § IV,  Para. 15 (2009).

Students must have taken the following courses to appear before a Virginia state court: criminal law, a procedure course, evidence, and professional responsibility. Students satisfy the first two requirements by taking criminal law and civil procedure in their first-year. 

It is essential that a supervising lawyer be with students at all times during the proceedings. The client's or Commonwealth's written consent must also be filed with each case and brought to the judge's attention. Although the rule does not specifically state that a copy of the court's written approval be filed with each case in which a student appears, it is recommended as the better practice in the event any questions are later raised.

Federal Courts

Students practicing in the federal district courts are governed by the federal Plan for Third-Year Practice Rule. See Michie's Jurisprudence of Virginia and West Virginia, Vol. 21D, Appendix A, pp. 38-40 (1997 Replacement Volume).

A student may appear in any criminal or civil matter on behalf of the government with the written approval of the United States Attorney or his authorized representative as the supervising lawyer.

If any student appears on behalf of any person, the person must indicate, in writing, consent to that appearance. The supervising lawyer, who must be counsel of record for the person on whose behalf the student is appearing, must also indicate, in writing, approval of that appearance in any civil, criminal, or bankruptcy matter.

The supervising lawyer must be personally present unless permission to the contrary is granted by the court.

If you have any questions about obtaining your third-year practice certificate, please contact the associate dean for student and administration services, or the associate dean for academic affairs.