Since each state runs their own state bar, staying up on the unique continuing legal education requirements by state can be a challenge for even the most experienced attorney. That’s because CLE requirements can and do change often, a result of the changing demands of the law itself. But for those that are newly-admitted attorneys, much less the experienced attorneys that have been doing so for years, changing CLE requirements can be a huge hassle to stay on top of.
But it’s not like you have an option. If you want to be in good legal standing with your state bar, you must complete your CLE requirements for each state that you practice law in. Most states give you a couple years or so — two years in New York, three in California — to complete your CLE requirements before the period ends, though much of the work is up to you.
It’s the attorney’s responsibility to identify the right CLE courses that satisfy their state’s requirements, as well as to complete the instruction and turn in everything by the mandated deadline. And if you manage to leave something out, you could run the risk of losing your eligibility to practice law.
About CLE Requirements
Without any sort of national CLE requirement, it’s all decided by the states themselves. Some states have yearly requirements while others may simply ask for a certain amount of credit hours by the deadline. That said, some states have no CLE requirements at all, such as in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and South Dakota, meaning that if you practice or are preparing to practice law in those states, you won’t have to worry about CLE at all. But in all other states, mandatory CLE is part of being an attorney.
Another aspect of confusion can be in accounting for the credit hours. Some states utilize a regular, 60-minute hour while others may settle for a 50-minute hour instead. That can mean 1.5 credits for a 90-minute course under a 60-minute hour yet 1.8 credits under a 50-minute hour. Additionally, many states utilize rounding practices to end up with convenient numbers that can be easily added together, such as in the case of New York where those 1.8 credits would actually be rounded down to 1.5, or a 1.4 that could be rounded down to 1.
The CLE requirements by most states are often limited to a reporting period of one year, but many states actually have longer reporting periods such as two years for New York and three years for California. Basically, you have to look at the reporting period by the number of CLE credits needed to determine your yearly obligation, though some states like New York may require splitting up the credit hours (32) into equal parts (16) for newly-admitted attorneys while experienced attorneys in New York can get by with 24 credit hours by the two-year deadline.
Reporting Differences in CLE Requirements
There are also differences in how each state does their reporting periods. While many states use the calendar year to define their CLE requirements, others, such as Arizona and Arkansas, use a defined deadline of June 30. Still others may use the anniversary of when you first became an attorney in the state or follow a scheduled deadline based on the first letter of your last name. Unfortunately, there are no national standards and many states have all manner of idiosyncratic rules that may have nothing to do with the CLE requirements of other states.
But it’s not like once the period ends you need to have all your reporting in place. Many states, such as Alaska or Colorado, give you a grace period between when the CLE period ends and when reporting is due. For CLE requirements in those states, you’ll have until January 31 (Colorado) or February 1 (Alaska) after the December 31 deadline, giving you adequate time to prepare and self-report your CLE credits.
CLE Requirements by Topic and Types
It’s also the case that various CLE requirements differ by state according to the different topics of study. Many states require CLE courses in ethics or professionalism, as well as in the elimination of bias or diversity and inclusion.
For example, while the New York State Bar requires 24 credit hours of CLE in every two-year period between attorney registrations, four of those credit hours must be in the ethics and professionalism category. Another credit must be in the diversity, inclusion and elimination of bias category, though the rest (19) can be in a topic of your choosing.
Newly-admitted attorneys in the state of New York have additional CLE requirements of 32 hours that must be split into two yearly obligations of 16 hours each. Furthermore, the 16 credit hours required each year must be allocated with three hours in ethics and professionalism, six hours in skills and seven hours in law practice management or professional practice.
By comparison, The State Bar of California requires 25 CLE hours in each three-year reporting period to be “participatory” credit, meaning that the instruction must be “live” in person or online with audience feedback and discussion. Additionally, no more than half of the hours (12.5) can be for self-study, with at least four hours of legal ethics, one hour on competence issues and one hour in recognition and elimination of bias in the legal profession and society.
For states with lesser CLE requirements, you may be able to get by with 100 percent of your instruction via convenient online CLE courses, though you’ll still have to abide by certain topics and the minimum credit hours for the reporting period.
Meeting Your CLE Requirements by State
Depending on where you practice law, you’ll have to meet the CLE requirements for your state, including the credit hours required, as well as the topics and the type of instruction permitted. Many states also require you to self-report and collect documentation of your attendance and the material covered, which can be a time-consuming activity.
To help you pick the right courses and more easily meet your state’s CLE requirements, here at TRTCLE we offer convenient CLE bundles that allow you to select a group of online CLE courses that are designed to meet your state’s requirements. Simply select your state in the dropdown to see the bundles available.