Opening Statements

States look to fill legal aid gap by letting emeritus attorneys do pro bono work

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Starting in September, retired and inactive attorneys in Ohio will be able to do some pro bono work under a new rule that’s meant to make it easier for folks without a lot of resources to get access to justice.

Inactive attorneys in good standing with the Ohio State Bar Association, who practiced for at least 15 years, will be able to register for emeritus pro bono attorney status. To do it, they’ll have to produce a letter from a pro bono organization—a law school clinic or legal aid organizations, for instance—confirming their affiliation and fork over 75 bucks.

All but a handful of states now have rules similar to Ohio’s, some with emeritus rules that have been in place for three decades.

A report by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging finds that emeritus attorneys perform valuable roles in the community by bolstering legal aid and other nonprofit programs beyond what would otherwise be possible given limited—some would say extremely strained—budgets.

“Emeritus attorneys become a critical component of efforts to address the unmet civil legal needs of individuals in the greatest social and economic need,” states the report.

That’s just what John Holschuh, president of the Ohio bar, is hoping will happen come September.

The bar has been focused on increasing access to justice in a number of ways for the last couple of years, in the face of decreased legal services budgets but no decrease in the number of people needing legal services. In 2014, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor assembled a task force to tackle the issue.

The task force released its final report in March of last year. One of its recommendations was that the supreme court consider adopting an emeritus attorney rule.

Other efforts include substantially increasing the fees for out-of-state attorneys applying for pro hac vice status and asking Ohio lawyers to voluntarily pay an extra $50 every time they renew their bar status.

These two steps together are expected to raise somewhere in the range of half a million dollars per year—which, combined with the emeritus attorneys plying their trade, should help make sure that more Ohioans get more of the legal help they need.

“We are very hopeful,” Holschuh says.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Pro Bono Pros: Ohio and other states look to emeritus attorneys to fill legal aid gap.”

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