CLE, or Continuing Legal Education, is a mandatory requirement for almost all lawyers in the United States. If you don’t stay up to date with your CLE credits, could you be at risk of being disbarred?
In this article, we give you some tips on how to make sure you’re always compliant. So, whether you’re a new lawyer just starting, or you’re wondering about your last CLE renewal deadline, read on for updates!
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Are CLEs a Requirement for ALL Lawyers?
Since the idea of CLE is to ensure that lawyers continue to be informed of new developments relevant to their profession, some states have made CLE mandatory. They also require that CLEs should be completed within a specific timeline. However, not all states require their lawyers to take CLEs. A few of these states are the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and South Dakota.
In Maryland, the state bar still encourages their attorneys to attend CLE courses. This is to enhance their professional development.
Massachusetts lawyers admitted to the state bar after September 2013 are required to attend the in-person course in Practicing with Professionalism. This should be done within the first 18 months upon admission. After completing the course, Massachusetts attorneys are not required to attend any CLE seminars.
Michigan only suspends its admitted lawyers for any non-payment of required fees, but not due to CLE nonattendance.
As with Maryland, South Dakota encourages attorneys to keep up with the latest developments within particular areas of law.
If lawyers take CLE credits that are more than the minimum requirement per state, the extra credits can be carried over. Not all credits can be carried over to the next reporting period, though. In this way, the extra credits that cannot be carried over then expire.
CLE credits are counted by credit hours, but these are not always 60-minute “hours.” Unlike normal hours, some CLE hours are only 50-minute courses. Even if the courses are just 50 minutes, they can be counted in some states as one CLE credit hour. If the lawyer accumulates a certain number of CLE hours given the different topics required, they can then complete his or her reporting cycle.
Some states have a reporting period of one year while some have two or three-year cycles. During this reporting period, attorneys are given time to complete their state’s CLE hour requirements.
To illustrate, Maine attorneys are required to complete at least 12 CLE credit hours yearly. On the other hand, New Jersey State Bar requires at least 24 CLE credit hours every 2 years. Another example is that Washington lawyers are required to complete at least 45 CLE credit hours every 3 years.
It is unavoidable for some lawyers to have an excess of CLE credit hours, especially if they are frequent speakers or panelists. In this case, some states allow a certain number of credits to be carried over to the next reporting period as mentioned earlier.
Taking the same states above as examples, in Maine, the credit limit is at 10 credit hours, whereas self-study programs are limited to only 5 of these 10 hours. New Jersey attorneys may carry over 12 CLE credit hours to the next period. Finally, Washington State Bar allows 15 hours maximum hours which includes 2 hours of ethics credit.
In case a lawyer still has remaining CLE credit hours above the maximum carry-over hours allowed, these hours are no longer counted and are disregarded. Click here to review CLE Requirements by state.
How to Fulfill CLE Hour Requirements
Aside from completing the required CLE hours per reporting period, state attorneys are also given options on how to fulfill them.
For example, many states allow self-study or remote learning for CLEs. Lawyers also have the option to complete CLE requirements while on vacation, thanks to the Eduvacations℠ of Destination CLEs.
With Destination CLEs, Attorneys can enjoy a vacation with their family while completing CLE requirements, or even bring their entire firm for a relaxing yet educational retreat. To book your next trip, simply choose your destination and click “register.” It really is that easy! Plus, your the Eduvacation℠ of Destination CLEs may qualify as a tax write-off.
Tips on Completing CLE Requirements
There are several things that can help you complete your CLE credits without any hassle.
Here are some general tips to ensure compliance as well as to make sure you’re staying updated with any potential CLE rule changes:
1. Check the rules of your state
New lawyers may have different CLE requirements once they get accepted to their state’s bar admissions. Some states only require an adjusted number of hours for completion. Some states have several courses that may need to be attended to.
For example, Kentucky, among other states, requires new lawyers to attend the New Lawyer Program. Some states like Missouri require their new attorneys to attend 2 hours of courses on professionalism, legal or judicial ethics, substance abuse and mental health, or malpractice prevention, within a year after admission. Another example is Utah, where attorneys are required to finish at least 12 hours of CLE credits, aside from the New Lawyer Training Program and New Lawyer Ethics Program.
2. Keep updated with the current CLE requirements
During the pandemic, most state bars made some temporary changes to accommodate the safety of their lawyers and clients. These changes included an extension of the CLE requirement deadlines in many states, as well as more flexible options for joining CLE seminars.
3. Visit or log in to your state bar’s official website
Most state bars post their notices on a public events page on their official website. Some state bars require their member lawyers to log in in order to view this page. The official website includes the required programs, schedules, and advanced notices that may help during the reporting period.
4. Plan your CLEs in Advance
Make realistic plans that your busy schedule can accommodate. As some of the state bars are easing back to the usual compliance requirements, they would normally provide their CLE programs as soon as possible to give more time for their attorneys to plan ahead. Through working out your timeline with your CLE requirements, you can confidently check from time to time whether or not you have more hours left or are in excess already.
Try to space out your schedule to avoid last-minute cramming that may affect your compliance. As previously mentioned, Destination CLEs offer CLE courses that you can complete while taking a vacation with or without your loved ones. Aside from moving your way through compliance with CLE requirements, you also get a breather from your hectic schedule with the Eduvacations℠ of Destination CLEs.
5. Make a list of the potential topics that you would need
Potential topics that you need include (1) those that apply to your state, (2) those that will help you improve your craft, (3) those that are timely, and (4) those that are important such as ethics and other special required courses.
6. Update your calendar or tracker
You are required to report your credits and it’s important to keep track of them. This way, you can have more time to check whether you’ve missed an important topic or if you may have carry-over credits to the next reporting cycle.
Some lawyers would prefer to have carry-over credits so they have more time to do other things. Others prefer to keep their options open in case there are new and engaging topics that become available during the next reporting period.
For good old-fashioned calendaring, try a planner like this one on Amazon.
7. Stay engaged, focused, and keep notes
The point of completing CLEs should not be just because you want to be compliant. Your mindset should be to gain more knowledge applicable to your field. CLE programs also help lawyers with relevant issues on mental health, substance abuse, ethics, and professionalism.
Even technological advancement in the field related to the law practice can also help make you updated. Focus on the topics and jot down notes or ask questions. Since most CLE programs are paid courses, make the most of your hard-earned money by actually being involved with the program.
Why CLEs Are Important
Admittedly, some lawyers find CLE requirements to be a waste of their time, especially for those who have their own firms or those who are decision-makers in their firms. Some would prefer working on their own tasks rather than sitting in a seminar. However, it’s important to remember that the value of CLEs is to help attorneys provide the best service they can to their clients.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the legal industry may still grow about 5% from 2019 to 2029. This means that the competition pool is getting larger and lawyers need to stay afloat.
CLEs help advance your legal career and can help add skills that make you more competitive in the legal industry. Since legal practice continuously evolves and adapts to change, lawyers are also expected by their state bars to keep up with the changes and improve their profession. CLEs add value to the professional development of lawyers in these ways.
CLEs offer a unique opportunity to learn and grow in your legal career. They also offer the chance to network with colleagues and meet new people.
If you’re looking for an interesting, affordable way to continue your legal education, look no further than Destination CLEs.
With a variety of courses that will keep you on top of the latest trends in law, and in beautiful locations, no less, Destination CLEs can help you build relationships with other professionals in the field while also sharpening your legal skills and helping you get some much needed R&R. Plan your CLE schedule now and click here to book your next Eduvacation℠ of Destination CLEs!