Resource Page: The Ethics of Retirement
Missouri Supreme Court Rules
• Rule 4-1.4, Communication
• Rule 4-1.15, Trust Accounts and Property of Others
• Rule 4-1.16, Declining or Terminating Representation
• Rule 4-1.17, Sale of Law Practice
• Rule 4-1.22, File Retention
• Rule 4-7.1, Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services
• Rule 4-7.2, Advertising
• Rule 4-7.5, Firm Names and Letterheads
• Rule 6.01, Annual Enrollment Fee and Statement – Exemptions – Penalties – Pro Hac Vice Fee – Pro Bono Waiver (See (d) on persons exempt from fee and (o) on pro bono waiver of annual enrollment fee)
• Rule 6.03, Election to Become Inactive
• Rule 6.05, Unauthorized Practice by Suspended, Stricken, or Inactive Lawyers
• Rule 6.06, Return to Active Status
(The following list of cases is intended as an aid for initial inquiry and is not a substitute for individualized legal research):
• In the Matter of Cupples, 952 S.W.2d 226 (Mo. banc 1997).
• Formal Opinion 118, Unused Client Funds Remaining in Trust Fund
• 2023-07 (closing trust account upon retirement)
• 2023-03 (payment of fees to retired lawyer)
• 2022-02 (retirement; inactive status; pro bono)
• 2020-11 (elements of an Of Counsel relationship)
• 2020-02 (retiring law taking inactive status)
• 2011-02 (attorney designating spouse as TOD beneficiary of stock)
• 990217 (trust account for dissolving law firm)
• 990177 (sale of a law practice)
• 970081 (inactive lawyer acting as a paralegal)
• 960108 (use of trade name for law firm)
• 960072 (compensation for Of Counsel lawyer)
• 940197 (retired judge status)
• 940056 (firm name including deceased lawyer)
Frequently Asked Questions
Choosing a License Category for Retirement
Informal Opinion 2022-02
Question: Attorney is considering retiring from the practice of law and is trying to determine if Attorney should change Attorney’s license to inactive status. Attorney would still like to represent family and friends with legal issues, and maybe engage in pro bono work. What license status should Attorney maintain?
Answer: Since Attorney still would like to represent family and friends with legal issues, and maybe engage in pro bono work, Attorney should maintain a full Category 1 license pursuant to Rule 6.01. If Attorney were to seek inactive status pursuant to Rule 6.03, Attorney would not be permitted to represent family and friends, or engage in pro bono work, or Attorney would be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law pursuant to Rule 6.05 unless Attorney first sought to return to active status pursuant to Rule 6.06. If Attorney is over the age of seventy-five years or has been licensed to practice for fifty years or more, Attorney may be exempt from paying either a Category 1 or inactive fee pursuant to Rule 6.01(d). If Attorney only wishes to engage in pro bono work upon retirement, Attorney should review Rule 6.01(o) to determine if Attorney would like to seek a waiver of the annual enrollment fee to solely provide pro bono legal services to an approved legal assistance organization. Attorney should also consider MCLE requirements pursuant to Rule 15.
Taking Inactive Status Upon Retirement
Informal Opinion 2020-02
QUESTIONS: Is a retired lawyer exempt from paying the annual enrollment fee? Is a retired lawyer able to work as a paralegal? Is a retired lawyer exempt from reporting Continuing Legal Education hours?
ANSWER: There is no “retired” enrollment status in Missouri. A Missouri lawyer who ceases to practice law in Missouri may elect to become inactive pursuant to Rule 6.03 and pay an annual inactive fee. Inactive lawyers are prohibited from engaging in the practice of law or the doing of a law business in Missouri. Rule 6.05. Whether work as a paralegal by a lawyer whose license is inactive constitutes the unauthorized practice of law is a question of law and fact outside the scope of the Rules of Professional Conduct. In Missouri the judiciary is the sole arbiter of what constitutes the practice of law. Generally, a lawyer who is not permitted to practice law because the lawyer’s license is inactive is permitted to do law-related work that a nonlawyer, such as a paralegal, is permitted to perform. However, inactive lawyers working as paralegals must exercise caution. It can be difficult for an experienced lawyer to refrain from providing legal services, even when the lawyer’s title is that of legal assistant or paralegal. An inactive lawyer may apply for return to active status under Rule 6.06. A Missouri lawyer in good standing is exempt under Rule 6.01(d) from paying annual enrollment fees or inactive fees if the lawyer has been licensed to practice in Missouri for fifty years or more or has reached the age of seventy-five years. Rule 15, Continuing Legal Education, governs whether a lawyer is required to complete or report Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit hours. Questions about what constitutes the active practice of law in Missouri for purposes of Rule 15 should be directed to The Missouri Bar.
Requesting an Informal Advisory Opinion
Missouri attorneys may request an informal advisory opinion from the Legal Ethics Counsel. Guidelines for requesting an informal advisory opinion, in writing or by telephone, are found here. The Office of Legal Ethics Counsel may be reached by telephone at 573-638-2263.
Updated August 29, 2023