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February 01, 2016

Performance Data on Emeritus Pro Bono Practice Rules

David M. Godfrey

(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Vol. 37, Issue 3.)

Emeritus pro bono practice rules can be effective tools for recruiting volunteer attorneys. Specifically, by reducing some of the licensing burdens for attorneys who agree to limit practice to pro bono only, these rules are designed to encourage pro bono service. Attorneys who are retired, inactive, or not licensed in the state in which they are volunteering may be eligible, although the rules vary by jurisdiction. A recent count revealed that 38 jurisdictions have rules on the books, and two more states have rules in final development.

Whether these rules are actually effective in encouraging pro bono service, however, is an empirical question. To answer that question, a short online survey was done in 2014 returning modest data. In 2015 the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service—in collaboration with the ABA Commission on Law and Aging—launched a project to collect more complete data on participation, the number of hours, and what recruitment methods appear to be most successful.

By surveying key contacts in state bar associations, legal aid programs, and pro bono programs in all states with such rules, it was determined how many attorneys were participating and—when such data was available—how many hours of service were provided. Certainly, participation rates vary greatly by state, although the results do suggest that these rules can have a very real impact. One-quarter of the states reporting in 2015 had more than 50 pro bono volunteers under the rules. New York adopted their rule just five years ago and continues to grow with active recruitment.

While data on how many pro bono hours provided under these rules is difficult to obtain, data from a handful of states does suggest that these volunteers are contributing a significant amount of pro bono. As many as 5,000 hours were provided under the emeritus rule in California in 2014. In Washington, over 3,000 hours were provided in 2015. Iowa, New York, and Oregon each produced over 2,000 hours of pro bono under these rules in 2015.

Looking at these numbers in terms of hours per volunteer can also provide a sense of the potential these rules have for expanding pro bono service: hours per volunteer ranged from approximately 8 to 355. In New York and Iowa, these numbers were 167 and 355 respectively, fitting well with the IOLTA report from New York of an average of 200 hours per year per volunteer. It is unclear for Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington how many attorneys contributed to the hours reported, and so calculating such averages is difficult. Based on the total number of attorneys reported as licensed in these states, however, the average would range from 8.08 hours to 30.12 hours per volunteer. On the low side, this represents one client who might not otherwise have been helped for each volunteer.

Finally, the survey asked questions regarding what steps states and programs are taking to turn the rules into pro bono volunteers. To be effective, attorneys need to know that emeritus pro bono rules exist, so awareness of the rules is the first step. This can be done by posting the rules online, including the rules on license renewal messages, and by the persons responsible for entering changes in license status telling eligible attorneys who are in the process of moving to retired or inactive that they are eligible under the rules. According to the survey respondents, the most successful recruitment tools were one-on-one and peer-to-peer recruiting of eligible volunteers. Such practices are most effectively implemented with a pro bono director or point person in the program.

The survey confirms that emeritus pro bono practice rules can be effective tools for recruiting volunteers who might not otherwise participate. With work, programs have the potential to recruit a significant number of volunteers and report a meaningful number of pro bono hours.

The complete survey report will soon be available and posted on the Emeritus Attorney Rules page of the Standing Committee on Pro Bono & Public Service.

In 2015, participation data was collected from 24 states. The number of pro bono volunteers ranges from 0 to 1,245, with the leading states being New York (1,245), Utah (646), Oregon (297), and Washington (110).

2 Some states do not collect data on pro bono hours and many of those that do collect it are unable to separate the hours reported by attorneys licensed under the emeritus pro bono rules from all attorneys reporting. This data may be collected from pro bono and legal aid programs, but data from these programs do not represent complete data sets for the state in which the program operates.

Note that the New York data was obtained from only 17 volunteers with one pro bono project. The Iowa data is from a legal aid program that hosts all eight volunteers under the rule in the state. ■


David M. Godfrey

This piece was originally published in Dialogue, Vol. 19 No. 1. Dialogue is a publication of the ABA Division for Legal Services.

David Godfrey, JD, is a senior attorney to the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Commission he was responsible for elder law programming at Access to Justice Foundation in Kentucky. Mr. Godfrey earned his BA with honors at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and his JD cum laude from the University of Louisville School of Law in Kentucky.