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Retired, Inactive or In-house? You can do pro bono

By Marisa Wiesman

Are you a retired, inactive, out-of-state, or in-house corporate attorney? Did you know that you can perform pro bono services in Illinois? 

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 756(k) (formerly 756(j)) allows retired, inactive, and out-of-state attorneys to perform pro bono services through a not-for-profit legal services organization, governmental entity, law school clinical program, or bar association sponsoring entity. (For a partial list of sponsoring entities, click here.). The process is simple: the pro bono attorney and sponsoring entity file a pro bono authorization form with the ARDC; the pro bono attorney completes any training the sponsoring entity requires; and the pro bono attorney and sponsoring entity annually file a pro bono renewal form with the ARDC.  It’s that easy!

For house counsel admitted pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 716, the process is even easier. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 716(g) allows house counsel to do pro bono.  That’s it.  No need to file a pro bono authorization with the ARDC, and no need to perform your pro bono services through a sponsoring entity.

Why should retired, inactive, out-of-state, and house counsel do pro bono?  The need for pro bono legal assistance is staggering. An estimated 1.8 million Illinois residents live below the poverty line, and almost half of low income households in Illinois experience at least one legal problem each year. Yet nationwide there is only one legal aid attorney for every 6,415 low income residents. Retired, inactive, out-of-state, and in-house corporate attorneys can play a critical role in closing this justice gap. Pro bono attorneys can help protect survivors of domestic violence from their abusers; keep tenants from being illegally evicted from their housing; and can empower seniors by drafting advance directives and other planning documents.

Retired, inactive, out-of-state, and corporate attorneys are a hugely valuable resource for the legal aid organizations and other agencies serving clients who cannot afford an attorney.  Retired and inactive attorneys, in particular, bring a wealth of practice experience, valuable insight into the private bar and judiciary, and a different perspective on the legal issues legal aid attorneys see day in and day out. 

If you think you can’t volunteer because you don’t have legal aid experience, you’re wrong. Many of the organizations serving low income clients offer training and CLE credit to 756(k) and 716 pro bono attorneys. Pro bono work is a rewarding way to keep up your legal skills while you take a break from or step away from the rigors of a daily practice.

Yet retired, inactive, out-of-state, and corporate attorneys are woefully underutilized. In 2014, over 11,000 Illinois attorneys registered as “inactive” with the ARDC.  But only 26 of these attorneys were 756(k) pro bono authorized. 26 out of 11,000 - this is less than 1% of inactive attorneys.  Imagine the difference we could make if even 5% of inactive attorneys performed pro bono services in 2015.

The 1.8 million low income Illinois residents need you.  Visit for more information about volunteer opportunities at the many organizations serving these clients

No excuses. It’s time to get off the sidelines.

Posted on September 9, 2015 by Chris Bonjean
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Member Comments (1)

If you are doing pro bono while in inactive status, are you exempt from CLE?