If you are a practicing New York attorney, you know what it is like to scramble at the end of the two-year biennial registration period: One needs 24 hours of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits to complete one’s registration. Many of those attorneys looking for CLE courses at the eleventh hour are unaware that the New York State CLE Board provides that you may partially fulfill your CLE requirements by doing pro bono work though an approved provider (although on a two-for-one basis, i.e., two hours of approved pro bono work for one free CLE hour’s credit up to a maximum of 10 credits in any two-year reporting cycle). Likewise, many of those attorneys are unaware of the Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP) which acts as a liaison between attorneys—retired or not—and approved AEP host organizations or court-sponsored programs.
Founded in 2010 by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, AEP’s original purpose was to match retired attorneys with low-income New Yorkers in need of civil legal assistance. Retired attorneys, who are exempt from the $375 biennial registration fee and CLE requirements, may still continue to practice law with an approved AEP host organization or court-sponsored program. AEP helps those retirees match their skills and interests with an approved pro bono opportunity and makes sure that the provider offers the retiree malpractice insurance (some pro bono providers do not). AEP, in effect, functions as a clearinghouse between attorneys—retired or not—who wish to donate their legal services to New Yorkers in need in civil legal matters.
After AEP’s creation, it became apparent that there was another category of attorneys who might benefit from AEP’s services: those “senior” attorneys (55 or older) in practice for at least 10 years who were phasing down but not yet ready to check the “retired” box on their registration form. Such attorneys may choose “Emeritus” on their registration form and similarly match skills and interests with an approved pro bono provider and not have to worry about malpractice insurance, which the AEP makes sure is in place for you.
On your New York State Attorney Registration Form in Box “B” (Registration), after you check Option 1 (manner of payment of your registration fee), there is for non-retired attorneys a box entitled “Attorney Emeritus Program.” The box states that you “wish to enroll … as an Attorney Emeritus and volunteer to perform pro bono services in New York State under the auspices of a qualified legal provider [screened by AEP].” One of the undersigned should know because he (guess who) checked that box and can attest to the AEP’s value.
Another benefit of AEP is an increase in the number of free CLE credit hours one can obtain for pro bono work if you an active, non-retired attorney. If one is volunteering under the auspices of AEP, the CLE Board’s Regulations allow a maximum of 15 free CLE credits (for 30 hours of pro bono work) in any reporting cycle—an increase over the 10 credit limit if one is not working through AEP. Attorneys should consult the Regulations because more specific requirements apply. In any event, a classic example of serendipity if there ever was one.
Fordham University’s School of Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice provides programmatic and administrative support for AEP. Feerick Center staff organize information sessions and assist attorneys in finding pro bono opportunities that best suit their interests, background, and schedule. Emeritus Attorneys have proved to be an integral force in New York State’s fight for access to justice, with volunteers (there are approximately 1,000 Emeritus attorneys enrolled in the program) contributing an average of 150 hours of pro bono service annually. This service is critical, assisting low-income New Yorkers in essential matters including but not limited to housing, family, and education.
If you wish to enroll as an Emeritus attorney, you can do so by either going to NYcourts.gov/attorneys/volunteer/emeritus/index, checking the appropriate box on your biennial registration form or contacting the Feerick Center for Social Justice. If you wish to navigate through the various pro bono providers without the assistance of AEP, you are free to do so but AEP will make things a whole lot easier for you.
Michael Siris is of counsel to Solomon and Siris, PC, a member of the board of directors of New York County Lawyers Association and Chair of its Senior Lawyers Committee. Cora Vasserman is an AmeriCorps VISTA Member at Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice (FCSJ). As indicated above, FCSJ administers the AEP.