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April 01, 2016

Updated Emeritus Pro Bono Resource

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Vol. 37, Issue 4.)


The original vision of emeritus attorney rules was to encourage retired attorneys to do pro bono work by reducing or eliminating the annual license fee and other burdens. Over the years, the rules have grown to encourage pro bono work by inactive attorneys and attorneys licensed in other states. The unifying feature of the rules is a lessoning of the licensing burden for attorneys who agree to limit practice to pro bono only. Some jurisdictions have had these rules for over 30 years. Currently, 39 jurisdictions have some form of an emeritus attorney pro bono practice rule, and at least one state has rules under consideration.

The Commission on Law and Aging first looked at the rules in 1979, and started tracking the rules in 2006 when there were just 26 jurisdictions with rules. In 2009-2010, the Commission oversaw two ABA Enterprise Fund projects to encourage use of the rules to recruit volunteer attorneys in adult guardianship cases and to represent Veterans—with a focus on VA benefits eligibility. The guardianship projects reported recruiting 83 emeritus status pro bono attorneys, placing 37 cases, and closing 12 of those cases within the reporting period. The VA project reported recruiting 92 emeritus status volunteers, and reported placing 222 cases—in addition, over 2,200 attorneys participated in training funded under the project.

Beyond the data from the very limited guardianship and VA projects, there had been a lack of meaningful data on participation and success of the rules. In 2014, the Commission distributed a survey asking states with emeritus pro bono practice rules to report the number of attorneys participating under the rules and the number of hours reported. The survey yielded modest but promising results.

In 2015, the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service funded a project to improve upon the 2015 survey by asking for more in-depth data, case placement, and case closing data. Now, a 2016 update to the practice rules chart is available for download from the Commission website.

Visit the Commission's Emeritus Pro Bono Resources webpage to download the updated chart, the 2015 data, and other data on pro bono practice rules. ■