As you head for retirement, think Pro Bono

It’s official — you’re ready for retirement. As you pull together your plan, wind up your files and begin your farewells, let your last days be full of memories and free of regrets. Retirement need not mean an end to your life in law, after all. For lawyers who are keen on staying young in spirit, setting aside a few hours of retirement time for pro bono work is a perfect way to stay connected to the profession and the community.

The Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee encourages retiring lawyers to take up retired membership in the Law Society with pro bono in mind. Retired lawyers have an important contribution to make — by offering pro bono legal services directly and by mentoring younger lawyers.

What does it mean to become a ­retired member?

Retired members of the Law Society have the same rights as practising members, except the right to practise law (offer legal services) for fees, act as notaries public or take affidavits. They can, however, offer pro bono legal services, and will be granted free liability insurance protection if offering approved services through an approved pro bono program.

If you are a practising or non-practising member of the Law Society in good standing, you can become a retired member if you:

  • have reached the age of 55; or
  • have been a member in good standing for 20 of the previous 25 years; or
  • have been engaged in the full-time active practice of law for 20 of the previous 25 years.

To apply, submit an application form (available on the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.bc.ca), a non-refundable application fee of $26.50, and the annual retired membership fee of $79.50.

If you are a former member who wants to take up retired membership, you must first apply for reinstatement. If your reinstatement application is satisfactory, you will not be required to meet any conditions of reinstatement other than providing an undertaking not to engage in the practice of law. (Your undertaking will not preclude you from doing pro bono legal work. Pro bono is not the “practice of law” under the Legal Profession Act because it is not performed in the expectation of a fee, gain or reward.)

The Credentials Committee has discretion to waive all or part of the reinstatement fee for an applicant for retired membership, on any conditions the Committee considers appropriate.

What about insurance coverage for pro bono?

The Law Society offers professional liability insurance ($1 million per claim, $2 million annual aggregate) to retired, non-practising or insurance-exempt lawyers (such as Crown Counsel) who perform pro bono legal services. The coverage is available at no cost and without payment of a deductible or surcharge on claims.

There are provisos: First, a lawyer must perform pro bono services through a pro bono service provider approved by the Law Society. Second, the services cannot be for the benefit of a person previously known to the lawyer, including a family member, friend or acquaintance. Practising insured lawyers providing pro bono services who meet these two key provisos will also receive relief from payment of any deductible in the event of a claim.

The Law Society believes it is important to expand the pool of lawyers willing to offer pro bono services, and extended insurance coverage is one way to do just that. Although retired lawyers are also at liberty to provide pro bono legal work outside of ­approved programs, they will not have insurance coverage for that work.

The Pro Bono Law of BC website lists approved programs for the purposes of the Law Society’s liability insurance coverage: see “Resources/Approved Programs” at www.probononet. bc.ca. For a specific look at approved services within these programs and other conditions, see also “Insurance for Lawyers Providing Pro Bono Services” available via the same webpage.

Are there restrictions on what I can do pro bono?

There are things a retired member is not permitted to do, even on a pro bono basis. For example, only a practising lawyer can take affidavits or act as an officer for witnessing Land Title Office documents. Also note that there are other terms and conditions in the policy that may limit coverage, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the policy from the start (see Regulation & Insurance on the Law Society website).

How can I find the right pro bono opportunity?

The following programs are currently approved, so feel free to call or visit them online:

Pro Bono Law of BC
(Roster programs relating to family law, judicial review and Federal Court of Appeal)
www.probononet.bc.ca
Contact: Jamie Maclaren, Executive Director; Tel: 604 893-8932

Salvation Army BC Pro Bono Program
www.probono.ca
Contact: John Pavey, Central Coordinator; Tel: 604 681-3405

Western Canada Society to Access Justice
www.accessjustice.ca
Contact: Dugald Christie, Central Coordinator; Tel: 604 482-3195.