Since it has become an issue with the Obamas, I have been asked about the differences between the categories of lawyer.
would have to say that it is highly likely that the people making an
issue of this are people who are unfamiliar with professional practise
and licensing. That is because professions such as medicine and law
require that you are licensed to practise in a jurisdiction: otherwise,
you can be liable for unauthorised practise of law (or medicine, etc.).
one quits the active practise of a profession for whatever reason, they
may want to switch to retired or inactive status, which is different
from being suspended or disbarred: although I know that being inactive,
suspended, or disbarred requires the person to petition for
reinstatement before resuming practise.
On the other
hand, being inactive is not a statement that the person is unfit for
practise: merely that they no longer practise law for whatever reason.
This is the relevant section of Pennsylvania law regarding inactive
status as a lawyer--204 Pa. Code § 93.146
(b) Inactive Status. Enforcement Rule 219(j) provides that:
(1) An attorney who is not engaged in practice in
Pennsylvania, has sold his or her practice pursuant to Rule 1.17 of the
Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, or is not required by virtue
of his or her practice elsewhere to maintain active licensure in the
Commonwealth may request inactive status or continue that status once
assumed. The attorney shall file either the annual form required by
§ 93.142(b) and request inactive status or file Form DB-28 (Notice of
Voluntary Assumption of Inactive Status). The attorney shall be removed
from the roll of those classified as active until and unless such
inactive attorney makes a request under paragraph (3) of this section
for an administrative return to active status and satisfies all
conditions precedent to the grant of such request; or files a petition
for reinstatement under § 89.273(b) (relating to procedure for
reinstatement of an attorney who has been on inactive status for more
than three years, or who is on inactive status and had not been on
active status at any time within the prior three years) and is granted
reinstatement pursuant to the provisions of § 89.273(b) of these rules.
(2) An inactive attorney under this subsection (b) shall
continue to file the annual form required by § 93.142(b) and shall pay
an annual fee of $70.00. Noncompliance with this provision will result
in the inactive attorney incurring late payment penalites, incurring a
collection fee for any check in payment that has been returned to the
Board unpaid, and being placed on administrative suspension in
accordance with the provisions of § 93.144.
(3) Administrative Change in Status from Inactive Status to Active Status:
An attorney on inactive status may request resumption of active status
by filing Form DB-29 (Application for Resumption of Active Status) with
the Attorney Registration Office. Resumption of active status shall be
granted unless the inactive attorney is subject to an outstanding order
of suspension or disbarment, unless the inactive attorney has sold his
or her practice pursuant to Rule 1.17 of the Pennsylvania Rules of
Professional Conduct (see § 89.273(b)), unless the inactive status has
been in effect for more than three years, or unless the inactive
attorney had not been on active status at any time within the preceding
three years (see § 89.273(b)), upon the payment of:
(i) the active fee for the registration year in which the
application for resumption of active status is made or the difference
between the active fee and the inactive fee that has been paid for that
(ii) any collection fee or late payment penalty that may
have been assessed pursuant to § 93.144 of these rules, prior to the
inactive attorney’s request for resumption of active status.
Where a check in payment of the fees and penalties has been
returned to the Board unpaid, the Attorney Registration Office shall
immediately return the attorney to inactive status, and the arrears
shall not be deemed to have been paid until a collection fee, as
established by the Board under § 93.142(b)(2), shall also have been
In other words, one no longer
practises in that jurisdiction and does not have to pay full licence
fees or take continuing legal education (CLE). That also applies to
being retired (same section) although there is no fee associated with
being retired. The annual fee for inactive status is less than the
assessed active attorneys, and inactive attorneys are exempt
from paying the additional annual fees imposed upon active attorneys.
can be reinstated to active status from inactive by petitioning the
court and paying the fees for the period of being in inactive status.
course, one can not take new cases or actively practise law, yet remain
on the active list, but one is obligated to pay the full licence fees
and take CLE to remain active (if there is a CLE requirement) as well as
any other obligations which come with being licenced. Also, one cannot
be listed on a firm's letterhead if one is inactive since they aren't
supposed to be practising law.
Also, some jurisdictions make retirement final (as opposed to being
inactive), which would mean that one would have to retake the bar if
they wished to resume the practise of law.
Whether one remains
active, inactive, or retired depends upon a lot of things, but ethical
issues are not a part of that: the real question is more like will you
be likely to practise your profession? You would be better served by
keeping your licence if the answer is yes.
On the other hand, some people do not need to practise law, but may wish to resume at some future time.