New rule allows Iowa's retired attorneys, students to help legal aid offices

Rule allows retired attorneys to apply for an emeritus license

Kay Halloran, a former Cedar Rapids mayor, said her law career has come full circle because where she volunteered before starting a private practice is where she is today - Iowa Legal Aid.

"I was doing non-lawyer things with legal aid and then when the emeritus rule started this month, I thought, I can do that," Halloran, 77, said. "I have the skills and the available time. It helps you feel like you're being useful."

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled this month to allow retired Iowa attorneys like Halloran and attorneys licensed in other states to provide pro bono services to legal aid organizations. The state's legal aid offices turns thousands of low income people away every year because of the high caseload and lack of attorneys. The rule allows retired attorneys to apply for an emeritus license and volunteer their time for a legal aid office.

Dennis Groenenboom, executive director of Iowa Legal Aid in Des Moines, said Iowa joins 35 other states who offer the emeritus license. There are currently six emeritus attorneys working in offices across the state and Groenenboom is hoping for more.

Bob Teig, a retired assistant U.S. Attorney, received his emeritus license and volunteers in the Cedar Rapids office, along with Halloran. Teig did pro bono work helping domestic abuse victims with no contact orders through legal aid while he was with the U.S. Attorney's Office, so it was just natural for him to continue.

"I like doing this side of the case, helping people who really need assistance," Teig said. "Lot of people don't understand these situations are terrifying to the victims and there are usually kids involved."

Teig said he enjoys retirement but this allows him to still provide public service to an organization who is always in need because of the large caseloads.

Groenenboom said all the offices statewide closed 18,127 cases in 2013, helping 43,191 people.

Jim Kringlen, managing attorney for the Cedar Rapids Legal Aid Regional office, said 1,823 cases were closed in 2013, helping 4,849 people, in the Cedar Rapids office which serves six counties.

The court also amended the student practice rule this month which will provide more assistance to the offices by allowing law school students in the state to handle cases under supervision.

Scott Hartsook, managing attorney for Iowa Legal Aid's Older Iowans Legal Hotline, said it's great for the students who get practical experience. One advantage of the new rule is that now law students who finish an internship can continue to appear in court with clients after the internship ends. The old rule stated they had to be involved in an educational program to practice before a court or administrative agencies.

Guy Cook, attorney and Iowa State Bar Association president, said the rule change also allows law school graduates to provide legal services to clients while they are waiting to pass the bar exam on behalf of the offices of the public defender, attorney general, county attorney or legal aid organizations.

"It's very forward thinking of the court to approve this rule," Cook said. "This will really help out in the rural areas that have a tremendous need."

Legal aid assists clients with a variety of legal matters like dissolution, juvenile issues, housing, small claims, disability, taxes and public benefits.