Wouldn’t it be great to receive continuing legal education (CLE) credit for your public good contributions? In recent years, U.S. jurisdictions have adopted regulations that allow lawyers to receive CLE credit for their pro bono service because it incentivizes lawyers to engage in more pro bono and aids access to justice reforms by providing low-income communities with competent representation to address their legal needs.
The birth of CLE credit for pro bono service dates back to the early 2000s. Since then, many states have gradually adopted their own version of pro bono service for CLE credit rules, most recently over the last five to ten years. As of June 2023, nearly half of U.S. states have implemented a rule that allows CLE credit to be provided for pro bono service. Each jurisdiction varies on the ratio of pro bono hours equivalent to one hour of CLE credit and the maximum cap of credit that can be earned from pro bono service per compliance period. Further, most states designate a list of service providers that pro bono volunteers must work with to receive CLE credit.
State bar associations have collected limited data regarding pro bono for CLE credit. However, even some data provides insight on the early impact of these programs. Select U.S. jurisdictions have collected information on participation levels, including the number of pro bono hours attorneys have provided for CLE credit. Their findings are as follows:
Pennsylvania. Pa. CLE R. 108(f) establishes that one hour of CLE credit can be earned for five hours of pro bono service performed through an accredited provider, with a maximum of three CLE credit hours per annual compliance period. Per Pennsylvania’s 2022 report summarizing their three-year pilot program findings, “twenty participating organization coordinated with over 1,000 volunteers to report over 2,300 hours of CLE” and “these credits account for over 11,500 hours of pro bono service.” Such statistics represent “a successful blending of continuing education opportunities and efforts to serve Pennsylvanians in need.”
Ohio. Sup. Ct. R. X, § 5(G) establishes that attorneys can receive one CLE credit hour for every six hours of pro bono legal services performed, with a maximum of six CLE credit hours during a biennial compliance period. Across the three total biennial compliance periods from 2019-2022, 65.79 percent of attorneys received CLE credit for pro bono legal services, accounting for almost 19,500 hours of pro bono work. In the 2019-2020 compliance period, Ohio attorneys engaged in 7,320 hours of pro bono service, and 7,081.5 pro bono hours in the following compliance period. However, the pro bono hours in the 2021-2022 compliance period reduced to 5,173.5 hours. One possible explanation for the reduction could be the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on volunteers and providers with limited resources. Importantly, Sup. Ct. R. X, § 5(G) does not differentiate between in-person or virtual pro bono service for the purposes of receiving CLE credit, so attorneys can receive credit for both mediums. Despite this, the impact of the pandemic, including the difficult adjustment period for attorneys to engage in pro bono service virtually could help explain the reduction. Future data should shed additional insight.
West Virginia: State Bar Admin. R. 6.05(f) establishes that attorneys can receive one CLE credit hour for every three hours of pro bono work. This rule went into effect on July 1, 2019. In the 2018-2020 reporting period, almost 12 percent of the attorneys who received CLE credit for pro bono work utilized the maximum cap of six credits. This number reduced slightly to 10 percent in the 2020-2022 reporting period. Nonetheless, the two statistics represent almost 600 total hours of pro bono legal service in the last two compliance periods. Given the short time the Rule has been in effect, there is enthusiasm in engaging in pro bono work and earning the maximum amount of CLE credits from it.
From the select sample data, jurisdictions allowing CLE credit for pro bono service are especially encouraging attorneys to engage in pro bono work. Attorneys in these states are contributing valuable hours to underserved communities. The policy on CLE facilitates increased focus on access to justice in these communities and strengthens the ethical obligations lawyers have to engage in pro bono service.
The inconsistencies of data collection by state bar associations pertaining to CLE credit from pro bono service provides challenges in understanding the impact of these programs. Additional data will provide more insight on trends on a state-by-state basis as well as across states. It also may provide perspective on the influence of significant events, like the COVID-19 pandemic, on pro bono practice.
To learn more about pro bono service for CLE credit, please visit the Pro Bono & CLE Guide, published by the Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO®) project of PBI, which provides a comprehensive review of this topic across the fifty states and the District of Columbia.
 See PACLE, “Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board Announces Formal Approval of CLE Credit for Pro Bono Service,” (Feb. 15, 2022), https://www.pacle.org/assets/pdfs/2022_PACLE_Pro_Bono_Release.pdf.
 Email from Assistant Director, Attorney Services, of the Sup. Ct. of Ohio (July 25, 2023, 12:28PM EST) (on file with author).
 Email from The West Virginia State Bar Compliance Coordinator (July 6, 2023, 9:51 AM EST) (on file with author).
 In preparation for writing this article, I reached out to 13 states in an attempt to collect data related to how many attorneys earn CLE credit from pro bono service in their respective state. Out of the 13 states, two states provided spreadsheet data on attorneys who earned pro bono service in the last three to five reporting periods. The information available for Pennsylvania in the article was obtained online, not via a state bar representative. Three of the 13 states provided data that was not useful for this article’s analysis, and the remaining states did not respond. Some state bar associations advised to me that they were not recording CLE credit for pro bono service in their databases.