February 28, 2017

Tips to Plan Ahead for Free CLE

John Austin

Mandatory continuing legal education can be one of the necessary annoyances lawyers face every year. Attorneys who have taken a leave of absence—whether to have a baby, move from big law to solo practice, or other personal reasons—may find it difficult to keep up with their MCLE requirements along with the associated costs. Last-minute CLE courses are often costly, both in expense and in opportunity costs. Solo practitioners, freelance attorneys, and attorneys in small firms may not be reimbursed for CLE costs. However, with a little bit of research and planning, attorneys have more options than they may realize for free CLE credits.

1. Know your state’s rules and regulations. Each state has its own rules and regulations indicating what qualifies for CLE credit. The American Bar Association has an easy-to-navigate state-by-state MCLE requirement guide that lists the hourly requirements along with any specialty credits required.

2. Contact your local and state bar associations, as well as your law school, to see if they offer free CLE. Often local and state bar associations offer free CLE for their members, generally in association with a networking or social event. Check the association’s website, emails, and newsletter to see if there is an opportunity for you to attend one. Law schools and their alumni associations often offer free CLE credit that bring in guest speakers for the students. This is a great opportunity for the attorneys to get a free CLE, but also for the students to network with the attorneys.

3. Teach a CLE class. Private providers of CLE often need attorneys to present CLE classes in their region. While teaching a class may require you to research and update the materials, you typically get a multiple of hours for each classroom hour, when you present the CLE. Private providers also have opportunities where the materials have already been prepared and you must simply add your own experiences and “war stories” to the written materials.

4. Click the “Free CLE” tab on the American Bar Association website. The ABA has a Free CLE Series on their website that hosts monthly programs to earn free CLE credits (up to 18 hours every year). They even have made the archives of past CLE presentations available for current CLE credit, so you’re sure to find a CLE that pertains to your practice area.

CLE credits are not limited to in-person events. The ABA has made it possible to get credit using webinars and teleconferences, online courses, and CDs and DVDs. Check your state’s regulations to make sure you’re meeting the participatory hour requirements.

With a little advanced planning and using our Free CLE guide, you should be able to knock out your CLE credits without waiting until the last minute or breaking the bank.

5. Plan out your year. Once you have a schedule of the free CLEs being offered, schedule them so you take courses throughout the year, preferably at breakfast meetings and after-hours socials. Planning will prevent you from having to miss work on a last-minute marathon day.

John Austin

Principal at John Austin Law Firm in Raleigh, North Carolina.