Supreme Court Rule 50A allows retired attorneys to work with legal assistance organizations that offer free services to Tennesseans who are unable to afford legal counsel.
A “pro bono emeritus attorney” is any person, not currently actively engaged in the practice of law, who was or is admitted to practice before the Tennessee Supreme Court or the highest court of any other state or territory of the United States or the District of Columbia.
- Have been engaged in the active practice of law for a minimum of five of the past ten years immediately preceding the application or who are on retired or inactive status but were engaged in the active practice of law for at least 25 years immediately preceding the application.
- Have never been disbarred or disciplined for professional misconduct by the bar or courts of any jurisdiction within the past 10 years and are not on disability inactive status in any jurisdiction.
- If not a member of the Tennessee Bar, attorneys must have graduated from an ABA accredited law school.
- Agree to abide by the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct and submit to the Tennessee Supreme Court for disciplinary purposes.
Approved Legal Assistance Organization
An “approved legal assistance organization” is a non-profit legal assistance organization that is approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Organizations that receive funds from the Legal Services Corporation are presumptively approved. Any other organization seeking approval must file a petition with the Clerk of the Tennessee Supreme Court certifying that it is a non-profit organization and stating with specificity:
- The structure of the organization and whether it accepts funds from clients.
- The major sources of funds used by the organization.
- The criteria used to determine potential clients’ eligibility for legal services performed by the organization.
- The types of legal and non-legal services performed by the organization.
- The names of all members of the Tennessee Bar who are employed by the organization and who regularly perform legal work for clients.
- The existence and extent of malpractice insurance to cover claims made by clients against a pro bono emeritus attorney.
Pro bono/emeritus attorneys may perform legal work on behalf of a client that could be performed by any licensed attorney in Tennessee. The work must be performed in association with an approved legal assistance organization.
Pursuant to Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. 8, RPC 5.4(c), pro bono/emeritus attorneys are required to practice under a supervising attorney. The supervising attorney does not need to be personally present when the attorney engages in all activities and does not need to be present when the attorney appears in court. The supervising attorney is responsible for ensuring that the attorney receive the same supervision as any other volunteer attorney, including compliance with Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. 8, RPC 5.1 (Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervising Lawyers).
Pro bono/emeritus attorneys cannot represent themselves to be active members of the Tennessee Bar and cannot ask for nor receives compensation of any kind for their legal services. Approved legal assistance organizations may reimburse the attorney for actual expenses incurred, may charge for its services as otherwise proper, and are entitled to receive all court-awarded attorney’s fees for the pro bono/emeritus attorney’s services.
Pro bono/emeritus attorneys must abide by the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct and are subject to discipline. Attorneys are deemed not to be engaged in the practice of law for purposes of Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-1701, et seq. (privilege tax applicable to specific vocations, professions, etc.). Attorneys are exempt from the disciplinary fee required of all practicing attorneys but must comply with Tennessee’s CLE requirements.
A “supervising attorney” is an active member of the Tennessee Bar who oversees the work of the pro bono/emeritus attorney. The supervising attorney must:
- Be employed by or volunteer for an approved legal assistance organization.
- Assume responsibility for overseeing the work of the emeritus attorney to the same extent as any supervising attorney in a legal assistance program supervises any other volunteer attorney.
Application and Certification
Attorneys must file an application with the appellate court clerk’s office. The Tennessee Supreme Court reviews the applications and provides a written approval to the attorney.
The application includes:
- Employer Affidavit. A certificate by an approved legal assistance organization stating that the emeritus attorney is currently employed by or participating as a volunteer with the organization and will assume the duties of the supervising attorney as required.
- A certificate from the highest court or agency in the state, territory, or district where the emeritus attorney previously had been licensed to practice law that certifies he or she has fulfilled the requirements of active bar membership and has a clear disciplinary record as require.
- A sworn statement by the pro bono/emeritus attorney that the attorney:
- Has read and is familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Rules of Tennessee Supreme Court relating to the conduct of lawyers and will abide by those rules.
- Submits to the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Supreme Court for disciplinary purposes as defined by the Rules of Professional Conduct.
- Will neither ask for nor receive compensation for any kind of legal services authorized by the pro bono/emeritus rules.
Permission to practice terminates upon a notice to the Tennessee Supreme Court from the approved legal assistance organization that the emeritus attorney has ceased to be associated with the organization, which must be filed within 5 days after the association ceased, or the organization withdraws its certification. The cause for withdrawal does not need to be stated.
The Tennessee Supreme Court, in its discretion and at any time, may terminate the permission to practice.
If the pro bono/emeritus attorney’s certification is withdrawn for any reason, the supervising attorney must immediately file a notice in any court or tribunal where the attorney was participating as counsel.