Photo: Phil Foster

With a new pilot program coming online soon, attorneys in Pennsylvania will no longer have to split time between earning continuing legal education credits and performing pro bono services for the community, but instead will be able to do both at the same time.

In early May, the state Supreme Court announced the approval of a pilot program that will allow attorneys to get CLE credit for providing pro bono legal services through certified legal service providers. The program allows for attorneys to earn one CLE credit for every five hours of pro bono service, and up to three credits per year toward their annual requirement of 12 CLE credits.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is committed to providing access to justice for all and has a long-standing history of support for providing civil legal aid for those with limited resources,” Supreme Court Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy said. “This pilot program furthers our commitment to legal aid while providing opportunities for licensed attorneys to fulfill their annual CLE requirements.”

According to Stacey Witalec, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, although it has not yet been finalized, it is anticipated that attorneys will not be charged any fees for the CLE credits they earn through the pro bono work.

The pilot program is set to begin in 2019, and is expected to last three years, but bar association and legal aid organizations are already lauding the Supreme Court for the new program.

Samuel Milkes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, said he is looking forward to the program, and greatly appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision to implement the pilot.

“We think it will be very helpful to the provision of civil legal aid,” he said. “It certainly creates more opportunities and more incentives for the many pro bono lawyers to provide pro bono services to clients.”

Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor Mary Platt said the new program will facilitate the association’s efforts that are already underway aimed at providing legal services to the community and legal education to attorneys.

She noted that the association offers CLE courses with the goal of training attorneys on the legal skills they need to provide pro bono legal work, and the bar often pairs with legal aid groups to provide clinics on issues including expungements, naturalization and immigration status changes.

“The pilot program now will facilitate our efforts to do all those things at the same time,” Platt said. “We’re looking at this pilot program making our association even more the go-to CLE provider.”

The Supreme Court’s announcement came on the heels of another big change for CLE in Pennsylvania, as the Pennsylvania Bar Association recently assumed control of the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, which focuses on providing CLE to attorneys across the state.

The decision came after audits showed the PBI lost more than $4.1 million between 2015 and 2017 and had been operating since Jan. 1 at an operating loss of roughly $44,000 per week. In April, the PBI board, which has many members in common with the PBA board, voted to eliminate the PBI’s officers and directors.

Although some have questioned what the development will mean for CLE in Pennsylvania, in a recent interview with The Legal, outgoing PBA president Sharon Lopez said the move was done “to keep the gold standard of CLE in the marketplace and in order to preserve the brand that PBI has.”

According to the AOPC’s announcement, the new pilot grew out of efforts spearheaded by former Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor Alan Feldman and former CLE board chairman Robert Heim.

In 2005, Feldman established a task force on CLE and pro bono services to develop a program that would provide CLE credits for pro bono services. The group analyzed the concept and, in 2006, provided recommendations to both the Supreme Court and the CLE board, which adopted a resolution supporting the task force’s call to create the program.