Senior Lawyers Newsletter
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Section on Senior Lawyers

October 2016, vol. 8, no. 1

The alternatives to registering for the ‘active’ practice of law

As an aging “baby boomer” myself, I have noticed that several of my contemporary lawyer colleagues have left or are contemplating leaving the active practice of law. Obviously, this trend will continue as the crest of the baby boomer generation is now reaching the age of 70. For example, George W. Bush, Cher, Bill Clinton, Dolly Parton and even Jimmy Buffett turn 70 this year. (For some boomers, just looking at the number 70 gives one pause.)

If you were considering leaving the full-time practice of law, what are your options in registering with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC)? There are four different alternative statuses described in the Illinois Supreme Court Rules. They are “inactive status,” “disability inactive status,” “retirement status” and “permanent retirement status.” The place to begin understanding the differences is Supreme Court Rule 756, which is titled “Registration and Fees.”

Rule 756(a)(5) provides that an attorney may advise the Administrator of the ARDC in writing that he or she desires to assume “inactive status” and, thereafter, be registered as an inactive status attorney. Upon such registration, the attorney shall no longer be eligible to practice law or hold himself or herself out as being authorized to practice law in this state, except for providing voluntary pro bono legal service pursuant to Rule 756(k). More about this exception will be described below. The first immediate benefit is a reduction of the annual registration fee for 2017 from $385 to $121.

If the attorney on “inactive status” changes his or her mind and desires to resume the practice of law, he or she may advise the Administrator in writing and thereafter register as an active attorney. Registration requires payment of the registration fee for an active attorney and the submission of verification from the Director of MCLE that he or she has complied with MCLE requirements as set forth in Supreme Court Rule 790.

“Disability inactive status” is governed by Rules 757 and 758. This is not something that a practicing attorney voluntarily chooses. Under Rule 757, if, because of mental condition, an attorney is judicially declared to be a person under legal disability or in need of mental treatment, or has been involuntarily committed to a hospital on such grounds, the court shall enter an order transferring the attorney to disability inactive status until the further order of the court.

Under Rule 758, if the ARDC Inquiry Board has reason to believe that an attorney is incapacitated from continuing to practice law by reason of mental infirmity, mental disorder, or addiction to drugs or intoxicants, the Administrator shall file a petition with the ARDC Hearing Board requesting a hearing to determine whether the attorney is incapacitated and should be transferred to disability inactive status pending the removal of the disability, or should be permitted to continue to practice law subject to conditions imposed by the court. If the court determines that the attorney is incapacitated from continuing to practice law, the court shall enter an order transferring the attorney to disability inactive status until further order of the court. Any lawyer on inactive disability status is not required to pay an annual fee.

Rule 756(a)(6) provides that an attorney may advise the Administrator of the ARDC in writing that he or she desires to assume “retirement status” and, thereafter, be registered as a retired attorney. Upon such registration, the attorney shall no longer be eligible to practice law or hold himself or herself out as being authorized to practice law in this state, except for providing voluntary pro bono legal service pursuant to Rule 756(k).

The first immediate benefit of being a retired attorney is a reduction of the annual registration fee for 2017 from $385 to zero. Additionally, the retired attorney is relieved thereafter from the annual obligation to register, except, if the retired attorney seeks to provide pro bono services under Rule 756(k), he or she must register on an annual basis, but is not required to pay a registration fee.

If the “retired attorney” changes his or her mind, he or she may advise the Administrator in writing and thereafter register as an active or “inactive status” lawyer. Registration requires payment of the registration fee for an active or “inactive status” attorney and the submission of verification from the Director of MCLE that he or she has complied with MCLE requirements as set forth in Supreme Court Rule 790.

The final option is that of “permanent retirement” under Rule 756(a)(8). An attorney may file a petition with the court requesting that he or she be placed on permanent retirement status. All of the provisions of retirement status enumerated in Rule 756(a)(6) apply, except that an attorney who is granted permanent retirement status may not thereafter change his or her registration designation to active or inactive status, petition for reinstatement pursuant to Rule 767, or provide pro bono services as otherwise allowed under Rule 756(k). The petition for permanent retirement status must be accompanied by a written statement from the Administrator consenting to permanent retirement status.

The Administrator may consent if no prohibitions listed in Rule 756(a)(8)(B) exist. If the petition is not accompanied by a consent from the Administrator, it shall be denied. The conditions are that an attorney shall not be permitted to assume permanent retirement status if there is a pending investigation or proceeding against the attorney as described in the Rule, or if the attorney retains an active license to practice law in any jurisdiction other than the State of Illinois.

Whatever your age, these are your alternatives. The Supreme Court has made a special effort to encourage both retired and inactive status lawyers to provide free pro bono legal services under the auspices of a sponsoring entity. For more detail on the procedures for attorneys seeking authorization to provide pro bono services see Rule 756(k).