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  • InsideTrack
  • November 16, 2016

    A Guide To CLE Credit For Pro Bono

    Wisconsin lawyers may claim a limited amount of CLE credit for providing pro bono legal services. Note, this article has been updated from the Nov. 16, 2016 edition of Inside Track.

    Jeff Brown

    businessman holding a heart

    Under Chapter 31 of the Supreme Court Rules, lawyers in active status with the State Bar of Wisconsin are required to obtain and report at least 30 hours of continuing legal education credits, including three hours of ethics credits, in each two-year reporting period. 

    Thanks to changes approved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court​ in 2016, Wisconsin Lawyers can claim 1-hour of CLE credit for every 5-hours of pro bono work in qualified pro bono programs, up to a maximum of six credits per reporting period.  A lawyer who provides at least 30 hours of qualifying pro bono legal services in a reporting period can claim up to six hours of CLE credit.

    For the 2017-2018 CLE reporting period, 159 attorneys claimed 598 hours of CLE credit, which represents 2,990 hours of pro bono service. ​

    What Kind of Pro Bono Work Qualifies?

    Jeff BrownJeff Brown, Harvard 1989, is manager of the State Bar Pro Bono Program, liaison to the Legal Assistance Committee, and staff for the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6177.

    Not everything that would be considered pro bono work under Rule 6.1 will qualify for CLE credit. Under Rule 31.01(11) pro bono legal services is defined as “direct legal services provided without fee or expectation of fee to persons of limited means through a qualified pro bono program or pursuant to an appointment by a state or federal court.” 

    What Is a Qualified Pro Bono Program?

    Chapter 31.01(12) outlines three types of pro bono programs that are explicitly prequalified under the rule. A program is prequalified if it is: (1) operated by a Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF) grantee; (2) operated by a Wisconsin law school; or (3) operated by a Wisconsin bar association as of July 21, 2016.  A program approved by the Board of Bar Examiners can also become a qualified pro bono program.

    What Programs Qualify Under the WisTAF Grantee Provision?

    The list of WisTAF grantees may change from year to year and is available on WisTAF’s website

    Is My Bar Association’s Pro Bono Program Eligible?

    It depends on whether the program is operated by the bar association (staff or volunteers) and whether it was operating on July 21, 2016, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its order. Pro bono programs operated by bar associations as of that date were grandfathered in as qualified pro bono programs. Bar association programs created after that date must seek approval from the Board of Bar Examiners.

    Do Court Appointments Apply?

    Yes. If you are appointed by a state or federal court to serve as pro bono counsel, your representation of that client qualifies for CLE credit. 

    Can I Claim Ethics Credit for My Pro Bono Work?

    No. The rule only provides a way for lawyers to earn general CLE credits.

    Where Do I Claim CLE Credit For My Pro Bono Work?

    You must use the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) online CLE credit reporting system if you want to claim CLE credit for pro bono service that you provided through a qualified pro bono program or pursuant a court appointment. 

    Can I Use Pro Bono Legal Services CLE Credits To Help Me Obtain Reinstatement, Readmission, or Reactivation of My License?

    No. The rule prohibits the use of pro bono legal services credit for this purpose.

    Where Can I Find a List of the Pro Bono Programs Operated by the State Bar of Wisconsin?

    The BBE maintains the official list of such programs in BBE’s online CLE reporting system. For your convenience, you can also view a partial list of the programs on the State Bar’s website (BBE’s list is the definitive one). 

    How Can a Program That is Not on the List of Qualified Pro Bono Programs in SCR 31.01(12) Become Qualified?

    The Board of Bar examiners has authority under SCR 31.01(12)(d) to approve additional programs. Interested organizations should contact the board to determine the process to follow.​ 

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