Offering Free CLE to Encourage Pro Bono Participation

Many legal aid organizations recruit volunteer attorneys by offering trainings for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit at no or reduced cost in exchange for a commitment to provide pro bono service. CLE credit is appealing to private attorneys because it can help attorneys meet mandatory CLE requirements and network with the local legal community.

Benefits include

  • providing a tangible incentive for pro bono work
  • training future volunteers
  • fostering community awareness for access to justice issues

Many states have mandatory minimum requirements for CLE, but the courses can be expensive. Offering CLE credit for eligible courses in exchange for a commitment to handle pro bono cases is a great way to encourage attorneys looking to meet mandatory professional requirements.

Legal aid organizations can also focus the courses on the types of cases that private attorneys are most likely to encounter when volunteering. Courses then serve as training for future volunteers. Family law and how to assist self-represented litigants are common topics for CLE training because they are constant areas of need in the legal aid community. CLE courses, however, can focus on subjects of interest in specific regions, such as CLE credit on drafting Indian wills.

Planning a CLE Training for Volunteer Attorneys

  1. Choose your topic and objectives: Focus on objectives related to legal services for low-income people but avoid repeating the same topic too frequently. Offering trainings in a variety of subject areas will help recruit more volunteers.
  2. Recruit a presenter: Once you've selected a topic, identify experts in the subject area. Reach out to volunteer attorneys as potential presenters. CLE rules in some states provide presenters with credit for time preparing for a CLE course.
  3. Plan the training: Planning needs to begin well in advance of the presentation to ensure that the course provides high-quality materials, is well publicized, and meets accreditation timelines. Appointing a training facilitator will help this process go smoothly.
  4. Train and follow through: Make the training as interactive as possible to engage all attendees. Keep careful records of training participants in order to update your list of future volunteers and to help them apply for credit hours if necessary.

Essential Questions When Planning a CLE Course

  • What topics would attract new volunteers and serve the needs of the low-income community?
  • Who are the experts on this topic?
  • Who can facilitate the planning and accreditation process?
  • How will the training be offered? In person, webinar, or both?
  • What kind of supporting materials will enhance the course?

Model Projects

Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation

Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation offers private attorneys a mix of in-person trainings and webinars that are eligible for free CLE credit. The trainings are conducted by staff members and volunteers who are experts in their practice area.

In-person trainings are available approximately once a month, at a variety of locations throughout Land of Lincoln's service area. The locations change regularly, to ensure that private attorneys throughout the service area will have access to a training at least once a year. Land of Lincoln also produces annual webinars for CLE credit, which are broadcast through Illinois Legal Aid Online’s  webcasting facilities.

To ease the administrative burden of applying for CLE credit for each training, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation applied for Accredited Provider status in Illinois. As of 2013, all of its trainings are presumed eligible for CLE.

Legal Aid Society of Cleveland & Lorain County Bar Association

Legal Aid Society of Cleveland partnered with Lorain County Bar Association in 2006 to establish CLE programs in order to encourage pro bono services in underserved rural areas of Lorain County, Ohio.

Attorneys who agree to handle a pro bono case in Lorain County qualify for a free six-hour CLE course that focuses on the unmet legal needs of the low-income community. Attorneys have the option to participate in the seminar prior to performing pro bono work but must pledge pro bono service upon completion of the seminar.