About the Pro Bono Practice Program
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The State Bar's Pro Bono Practice Program (PBP Program), previously known as the Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Program, affords opportunities for retired attorneys, as well as those who are taking a temporary break from the active practice of law, to assist low-income Californians on a pro bono basis. The program takes advantage of the legal skills, training and experience of attorneys from all practice areas and settings and offers them the opportunity to contribute their legal expertise to California's neediest residents while receiving valuable State Bar benefits.
Eligible participants will receive a waiver of the active State Bar membership fee, have access to free and reduced rates to attend MCLE programs sponsored by the State Bar and the Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) and receive a free one-hour self-study MCLE course published monthly in the California Bar Journal. The revised rules can be found at Title 3, Division 2, Chapter 6 of the State Bar Rules and Regulations.
Read Frequently Asked Questions | Read Information for Qualified Legal Services Providers
To be eligible for the Pro Bono Practice Program, an attorney must:
- Be in good standing with The State Bar of California at the time of application;
- Have been admitted to practice law in California at least three (3) years preceding application to the program;
- Have practiced law or served as a judge in California at least three (3) of the last five (5) years;
- Have no record of public discipline during the three (3) years preceding the application;
- Agree to practice law on a pro bono basis ONLY and not engage in other legal work that requires active State Bar status (Rule 3.329(A);
- Provide pro bono work through one or more qualified legal services providers, a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service no-fee panel, or a court-based self-help center that is in compliance with California Rule of Court 10.960;
- Comply with MCLE requirements for active attorneys;
- Reapply to the PBP Program annually.
Examples of Pro Bono Services:
- Mentoring and training
- Direct representation (full or limited scope)
- Intake and referral
- Brief advice and counsel
- Community legal education and outreach
- Pro per assistance
- Litigation support
Applying to the Pro Bono Practice Program
- Active bar membership fee waived;
- Malpractice coverage generally available from the qualified legal services provider;
- Access to FREE or discounted rates to attend MCLE programs sponsored by the State Bar, California Bar Journal, Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB) and Practising Law Institute(PLI);
- Complimentary registration to select State Bar trainings and conferences;
- Opportunity to keep legal skills honed while taking a temporary or permanent break from one's legal career;
- Opportunity to make a tremendous difference in the lives of low-income persons who would not otherwise receive legal assistance.
(FAQs) Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the Pro Bono Practice (PBP) Program?
Formerly known as the Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Participation Program (EA Program), the Pro Bono Practice Program allows a California attorney who otherwise would not be practicing law to become an active State Bar member for the sole purpose of doing pro bono work with a qualified legal services provider, certified lawyer referral service, or court-based self-help center, and the State Bar waives the active status membership fee. The program seeks to engage attorneys who are taking a temporary or permanent leave from the active practice of law but who are interested in doing pro bono work.
2. Do similar programs exist in other states?
Yes. California is one of 35 jurisdictions (including Washington D.C.) with an Emeritus Attorney or Pro Bono Practice program.
3. What are the eligibility requirements?
To serve as a Pro Bono Practice (PBP) Attorney, a member must
(A) be a member in good standing with no disciplinary charges pending at the time of application to the Pro Bono Practice Program;
(B) at the time of application have been admitted to the practice of law in a California for at least three (3) years preceding the application;
(C) have practiced law or served as a judge in California for at least three (3) of the last five (5) years;
(D) have no record of public discipline during the three (3) years preceding the application;
(E) submit an application annually for the Pro Bono Practice Program; and
(F) be certified by the State Bar as a Pro Bono Practice Attorney.
(See Rule 3.327)
4. What is considered to be a “qualified legal services provider”?
A “qualified legal services provider” receives or is eligible to receive funds from the Legal Services Trust Fund Program as either
(1) a “qualified legal services project,” which provides legal services in civil matters without charge to indigent persons. (Business & Professions Code §§ 6213 – 6214.5)
(2) a “qualified legal services support center,” which provides legal training, legal technical assistance, or advocacy support without charge to qualified legal services projects. (Business and Professions Code §§ 6213 and 6215)
[See Rule 3.325 (C)]
5. The list of qualified providers currently receiving funds from the Legal Services Trust Fund Program is available on the State Bar’s website.
6. What is considered to be a “certified lawyer referral service?"
A “certified lawyer referral service” is, for the purposes of the PBP Program, the no-fee panel or pro bono panel or clinic of a lawyer referral service certified by the State Bar as meeting statutory criteria. (Business & Professions Code § 6155).
[See Rule 3.325 (D)]
A list of certified lawyer referral services is available on the State Bar’s website.
7. What is considered to be a "court-based self-help center?"
For the purposes of the Pro Bono Practice Program, a "court-based self-help center" is a self-help program that is in compliance with California Rule of Court 10.960
A list of Family Facilitators, Self-Help Centers, & Small Claim Advisors can be found at the California Courts.
8. What types of pro bono services typically are provided by PBP Attorneys?
Taking into account the interests, skills and schedule of the PBP Attorney and the range of services offered by a provider, there is a wide range of services, including, but not limited to:
- Representation (full or limited scope)
- Negotiation and settlement
- Screening and intake
- Brief service by phone or in person
- Document preparation and review
- Mentoring and training less experienced staff and volunteer attorneys
- Legal research and writing
- Consumer/public education
- Litigation support
- Legislative research and legal analysis
9. Is it necessary to have a background in any particular legal area?
No. Qualified attorneys come from all practice areas, settings and levels of experience. Common areas of practice by legal services providers include government benefits, family law, guardianship, immigration, housing, consumer law and elder law. And most providers offer training with free MCLE credit.
10. Is MCLE required for Pro Bono Practice Attorneys?
Yes. All attorneys in active membership status must meet MCLE requirements including PBP Attorneys. State Bar provides complimentary registrations to select MCLE programs.
11. Can attorneys enrolled in the PBP Program practice law outside of a qualified legal services provider, certified lawyer referral service, or court-based self-help center?
No. See Rule 3.329 (A): A Pro Bono Practice Attorney must provide legal services exclusively as a Pro Bono Practice Attorney and not otherwise engage in activities that require active status. Please note that active membership status is not reserved solely for members who practice law. Members who occupy a position that calls on the member in any capacity to give legal advice or counsel or examine the law or pass upon the legal effect of any act, document or law, must be an active member. [Rule 2.30, Title 2 of the Rules and Regulations of the State Bar].
12. Is there a minimum amount of pro bono work that is expected?
The PBP Attorney and the provider can determine the number of hours of pro bono services, but the recommended minimum is 100 hours per year. Please note that the 100 hours is NOT required.
13. Is malpractice insurance available?
Qualified legal services providers generally have malpractice coverage for their staff and volunteers.
14. What is the application process?
There are two forms to complete, one is the application and sworn statement for the attorney to complete, and the other is a declaration for the qualified legal services provider or certified lawyer referral service to complete. Both forms should be submitted to the State Bar by the qualified provider during the State Bar membership billing cycle (November to February 1). Applications submitted after February 1 can be considered and processed on an individual basis.
15. Is there an application fee?
There is no application fee.
16. Can a PBP Attorney participate with more than one qualified provider, certified lawyer referral service, or court-based self-help center?
Yes. Each provider must submit the application, sworn statement and declaration forms.
17. Once enrolled, is the PBP Attorney required to re-enroll?
Yes. A new application and sworn statement must be submitted annually for the Pro Bono Practice Program during the State Bar membership billing cycle that runs from November to February 1.
18. Does the State Bar refund the active membership fee if it was already paid?
If an attorney paid his/her membership fee (either active or inactive fee) between November and February 1, and subsequently enrolls in the PBP Program prior to the February 1 State Bar membership billing deadline, the fee will be refunded for that year. Partial refunds are not available.
19. What happens if the attorney discontinues doing pro bono work with the provider?
The attorney is no longer eligible to be enrolled in the Pro Bono Practice Program and must notify the provider and the State Bar within 30 calendar days (Rule 3.329).
20. Can an attorney do pro bono work without being enrolled in the Pro Bono Practice Program?
Absolutely! An attorney in active membership status may perform pro bono services at any time and pay the active membership fee. Please refer to the State Bar’s Pro Bono Resolution that encourages all attorneys to contribute at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services annually.
21. What is the best way to find a pro bono opportunity?
There are many pro bono opportunities throughout the state. The State Bar’s website lists qualified legal services providers, certified lawyer referral services, and court-based self-help centers. Please contact individual organizations for more specific information about their pro bono opportunities. You also can contact State Bar staff at 415-538-2328 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Also, for more information about pro bono opportunities in California, see www.calbar.org/probonoresources and http://www.probono.net/ca/.
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