Four years in college. Another three years of law school. Many hours were spent studying for the bar. Then boom! You’re a lawyer. Your legal education is complete, you may think.
Well, it’s actually not the case. Studying is not yet done, unfortunately. You can choose — or, in other jurisdictions, the necessity — to advance your professional growth with continuing legal education (CLE) courses. If you are in some states, you’re only encouraged to complete related coursework you’re interested in. For others, they have to follow a strict set of CLE requirements.
While there are different CLE requirements by state, let’s talk more about continuing legal education—in a broader sense.
Continuing Law Education (CLE): What Does It Mean?
Continuing legal education (CLE), also called mandatory or minimum continuing legal education (MCLE), is the term for a system or process of professional education for attorneys that follow after their initial admission to the bar. In other jurisdictions outside the United States, it is also known as continuing professional development.
In the U.S., attorneys in several states and territories are required to complete CLE to maintain their U.S. licenses and be able to practice law. Lawyers in different jurisdictions outside the U.S., such as British Columbia in Canada, also need to complete certain required CLE.
However, some jurisdictions like the District of Columbia and Israel recommend that attorneys complete CLE but do not obligate.
What Does Continuing Education in Law Mean?
In the U.S., continuing law education is a term that has a broad scope of post-secondary learning activities and programs. This education includes degree credit courses for non-traditional students by non-degree career training, formal personal enrichment courses, workforce training, self-directed learning, and experiential learning as used to problem-solving.
Moreover, it involves enrolling in college or university credit that grants courses by enrolled part-time students. It is given through a division or school of continuing education of a college or university.
It is sometimes termed as the university extension or extension school. Also, it can mean enrollment in non-credit-granting courses, frequently taken for personal, non-vocational advancement. Numerous non-credit courses can have a vocational role, too.
Continuing Law Education: What’s in it For Lawyers?
CLE assists lawyers in extending their studies beyond law school education. While doing the CLE, lawyers attend seminars created to hone lawyering skills or update on legal developments within particular practice areas.
Why is Continuing Legal Education Important?
Well, continuing legal education’s purpose is to ensure the skills of licensed attorneys and judges are continuously maintained and enhanced. Courses that are accredited study new measures of the law or reexamine basic practice and trial principles.
Continuing legal education programs are sponsored by the state, local, and federal bar associations, law schools, law firms, and groups like American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Law Institute.
Pursuing CLE is compulsory in 40 states; voluntary programs are given in the remaining 10. The courses are approved by state boards that supervise continuing education.
In some states that have mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE), attorneys earn credits for going to lectures and seminars where respected attorneys, judges, and scholars teach. Various topics consist of the courses, including virtually all areas of practice. There are also written program materials often included as an inclusion in the tuition fee.
There was widespread support for compulsory continuing legal education revealed due to a 1974 informal poll conducted by state and local bar associations. This measure was approved to guarantee professional competence and enhance the public image of lawyers.
Many supporters agreed and supposed that continuing legal education would lessen the number of legal malpractice suits, make lawyers stay updated on the latest changes in the law, and enhance the representation of clients.
After a year, Minnesota became the initial state to adopt mandatory continuing legal education in 1975. The Minnesota Legislature took over the administration of continuing legal education. However, the Minnesota Supreme Court preferred judicially mandated education and made appropriate steps to initiate it.
Then, the court gave an order from all Minnesota lawyers and judges to finish 45 hours of post-admission legal education every three years.
The Code of Professional Responsibility followed by every state ensures that lawyers must stay proficient in their work. Hence, continuing legal education is a sure way to maintain professional competence.
Various professions such as education, medicine, and accounting also mandate continuing education. At the start of the 1990s, states added specific content requirements. As an example, Minnesota has a requirement that in each reporting cycle, attorneys should take ethics-related coursework (3 hours) and two hours of coursework that has a relation to the reduction of bias in the legal profession.
Then, the state of California now mandates attorneys to get one hour of reporting cycles of coursework regarding prevention and detection of substance abuse.
How continuing legal education is delivered has changed with time. Even though most programs are offered at the local level, videotape sessions are being done by many providers now and can be replayed by them at many sites throughout a state.
This enables attorneys in rural areas and more distant places to receive their credits locally. What’s more, national providers such as the ABA provide seminars delivered by having satellite transmissions to cities throughout the United States.
In other states where continuing legal education is often required, non-practicing lawyers may choose to elect to be on restricted status. Through this, they can keep their law license but do not have to complete continuing education requirements. However, hardship or MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES spare practicing attorneys from a continuing education requirement.
CLE in the U.S.
There are no general rules in the United States for CLE requirements or accreditation. Instead, each individual jurisdiction (for example, each state, the District of Columbia, or each territory) has its own discretion in regulating U.S. attorneys, including establishing CLE requirements and accreditation rules. This kind of authority is typically vested in each jurisdiction’s supreme court and assigned to special CLE commissions or boards.
Nevertheless, many efforts promote the uniformity of CLE programs across U.S. jurisdictions.