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By-Laws Update for Retired Lawyers Doing Pro Bono Work

By Rebecca K. Troth

March 26, 2020

On January 1, 2019, the D.C. Court of Appeals’ amendments expanding the pro bono exception to Rule 49 (Unauthorized Practice of Law) became effective. Rule 49 now allows D.C.-licensed retired lawyers (in addition to active and inactive lawyers) to do pro bono work in the District. 

The court’s change prompted the D.C. Bar Board of Governors to modify the Bar’s by-laws, which had defined “retired lawyers” as those who had retired completely from the practice of law. At its February 2020 meeting, the Board voted to amend Article III, Section 1, of the by-laws to make clear that retired lawyers may do pro bono work as provided in D.C. App. R. 49 and still maintain their “retired” status. Importantly, this means that retired lawyers are not required to pay license fees as long as they are doing only pro bono work. 

The amendments also eliminated a provision that lowered license fees for lawyers in the active membership category who engaged only in pro bono work and complied with other requirements. 

We are optimistic that clarifying that D.C.-barred lawyers may retain their retired status and yet still do pro bono work will encourage senior lawyers to volunteer with one of the many legal services organizations in the District who need pro bono help, especially at this critical time.  

Rebecca K. Troth is executive director of the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center.