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Court Creates Emeritus Status for Retired Attorneys to Do Pro Bono Work

By Order dated May 9, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania adopted Pennsylvania Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 403, creating an emeritus status for attorneys who retire from the practice of law and seek to provide pro bono services to legal aid organizations. Emeritus programs create a pool of qualified volunteer attorneys to provide services to those in need. Emeritus attorneys perform valuable roles in the community by bolstering legal aid and other nonprofit programs to help close the gap between the need for and the availability of free legal services.  

In order to transfer to emeritus status, an attorney must be on retired status. The retired attorney must complete six hours of continuing legal education within one year prior to the application date as a prerequisite to transferring to emeritus status. The emeritus applicant must verify that he or she is authorized solely to provide pro bono services, is not permitted to handle client funds, and is not permitted to ask for or receive compensation. At the time of application, the applicant must pay a registration fee of $35. 

Once the application is approved and the attorney is transferred to emeritus status, the attorney will be eligible to provide pro bono services only through an eligible legal aid organization, a not-for-profit organization that provides legal services. In order to commence working for a legal aid organization, the emeritus attorney is required to submit an eligible legal aid organization form to the Disciplinary Board for approval of each organization for which the attorney expects to perform pro bono services. An emeritus attorney is able to volunteer with multiple legal aid organizations, as long as the attorney files the legal aid forms. Among other pieces of information, the form requests a description of the legal services performed by the organization and the nature of the duties expected to be performed by the emeritus attorney. The supervising attorney of the organization must verify that the organization has malpractice insurance to cover the emeritus attorney and that the organization will provide training and support to the emeritus attorney.

An emeritus attorney may renew the status on an annual basis between January 1 and January 31 of each year. Failure to file the annual fee form and pay the annual fee by January 31 shall result in the emeritus attorney’s transfer back to retired status. There will be no assessment of late fees for failure to renew at the designated time. A transfer back to retired status will require the attorney to begin the emeritus process anew if emeritus status is desired. An emeritus attorney seeking to resume active status should refer to the procedures provided for in Enforcement Rule 218(d) and (h).  

Emeritus attorneys are subject to an annual continuing legal education requirement of eight hours, consisting of 6 hours of substantive law, practice, and procedure and 2 hours of ethics, professionalism, or substance abuse, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Continuing Legal Education.

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