The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors has agreed on a proposed change to the emeritus classification of membership that applies to attorneys ages 70 and over.

The proposal is a hybrid approach with several different tiers of classifications for senior lawyers. It would require attorneys ages 70 to 75 in “active” law practice to continue paying full State Bar dues and to fulfill all continuing legal education (CLE) requirements (30 credit-hours every two-year reporting period).

Actively practicing attorneys over 75 would become “Senior Active” members and only be required to pay half State Bar dues and obtain half of required CLE (15 credits). Those electing emeritus status would be truly retired, but could still do pro bono work.

Emeritus status would become a totally “inactive” class of retired, non-dues paying members who elect such status at age 70 or older, but would continue to receive benefits of State Bar membership, including the Wisconsin Lawyer™ magazine.

Currently, attorneys can elect emeritus status at age 70 and practice law but are not required to pay any State Bar dues or Wisconsin Supreme Court assessments, aside from the court’s client protection fund fee (currently $20).

Additionally, current emeritus members who continue to practice law are exempt from CLE requirements.

Existing emeritus members would be exempt from the new classification, if the state supreme court approves it, and could actively practice law with no dues or CLE.

The current emeritus structure was established in 1975. Many observers now believe that, unlike 45 years ago, a significantly larger portion of today’s lawyers actively practice law well into their 70s while continuing to use State Bar services. When the current structure was enacted, most lawyers retired upon reaching their 70s and requiring them to pay dues and take CLE did not make sense.

About 13 percent of the membership is age 70 and over and 72 percent of them are emeritus members. About 20 percent of members are between the ages of 60 and 69.

The State Bar will now petition the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeking final approval of the proposed classification change under court rules.