Effective May 15, 2019, the Supreme Court of Louisiana amended Rule XIX to include in the disciplinary process new Section 20.2, which provides for the Permanent Retirement from the Practice of Law: “A lawyer who is 65 years of age or older, who suffers from age-related impairment and who does not have a serious discipline matter pending or under investigation, may seek permanent retirement from the practice of law.” This new provision also authorizes the Office of Disciplinary Counsel “to initiate the permanent retirement process [involuntarily] upon receiving information from a judge, partner or associate of the lawyer, family members of the lawyer, the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, hearing committee member, or member of the board.” A lawyer placed on permanent retirement status under Section 20.2 “shall not have the ability to return to the practice of law.” Except for orders transferring a lawyer to permanent retirement, proceedings under Section 20.2 are confidential and nonpublic.
Section 20.2 appears to allow a qualifying attorney who is involved in the disciplinary process to retire permanently with confidentiality protections that may not otherwise be available. Section 20.2, however does not define what constitutes an “age related impairment” or a sufficiently non-serious disciplinary matter. Furthermore, although it appears in the section of Rule XIX that addresses consent discipline, Section 20.2 does not seem to exclude participation by a lawyer who is not the subject of a pending disciplinary proceeding; yet, the Court appears to now authorize the ODC to “initiate” permanent retirements under that section even in the absence of a disciplinary proceeding. Compare Rule XVIII, Section 5 (allowing retirement when no discipline is pending) and Rule XIX, Section 22 (allowing transfer to disability inactive status with or without pending disciplinary proceeding). The ODC’s authorization under Section 20.2 to act on information received from the Judge and Lawyers Assistance Program (“JLAP”) also raises questions. Under La. R.S. 37:221(B), for instance, JLAP is prohibited from disclosing to the ODC information provided by a lawyer to JLAP in confidence, so it is not clear from the rule how JLAP would be providing information to the ODC that could “initiate” a non-voluntary the permanent retirement process under Section 20.2.
Louisiana lawyers over age 65 should consider all options under all Rules before filing a petition under new Section 20.2. If a lawyer is not subject to a pending disciplinary investigation or proceeding, other options may include a transfer to inactive status or resignation from the practice of law under Rule XVIII and a transfer to disability inactive status under Rule XIX, § 22(B). Even when a disciplinary investigation or proceeding is pending, the benefits of proceeding under Section 20.2 should be balanced carefully against the consequences of permanent retirement status. Our lawyers have experience in helping members of the bar address the issues raised by Section 20.2 should such a need arise.