Nov. 4, 2020 – Lawyers admitted to practice law in Wisconsin must obtain at least 30 continuing legal education (CLE) credits every two years. If you were admitted to practice law in an even-numbered year, CLE deadlines are fast-approaching.
The reporting period for lawyers corresponds with the year of admission to practice law in Wisconsin. If you were admitted in an even-numbered year, you will be required to report CLE credits shortly after this year comes to a close.
The reporting period for those admitted to practice law in 2016 or 2018, for example, will end on Dec. 31, 2020. Those lawyers must complete and report CLE requirements to the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE).
The rules grant an additional month to obtain and report CLE activity for the reporting period. That is, to avoid a late filing fee or other penalties, 2019-20 courses must be completed by Jan. 31, 2021, and CLE reports must be submitted to BBE on or before Feb. 1, 2021.
This article explains the basic CLE attendance and reporting requirements, noting different ways to obtain CLE credits and the exemptions that may apply.
It does not discuss every detail of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and BBE Rules on CLE. Lawyers should consult SCR Chapter 31 covering CLE.
Earn CLE in Different Ways
Under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 31.02, lawyers “shall attend a minimum of 30 hours of approved CLE during each reporting period.”1 Of those 30 hours, at least three hours must be on the subject of legal ethics and professional responsibility (EPR).
The language of SCR 31.02 is slightly confusing, suggesting that lawyers must “attend” 30 hours of approved CLE. Lawyers may associate “attendance” with coursework earned through CLE providers such as State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®.
But, as other provisions of the CLE rules make clear, lawyers may engage in a combination of different “activities” to satisfy the CLE requirements. In other words, coursework is not the only means of earning the required 30 credits. Lawyers can also earn credits through writing, speaking, teaching, and/or doing pro bono work.
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Lawyers could, if they wish, earn all 30 credits through approved coursework. The BBE approves CLE programs that meet certain criteria, explained in SCR 30.07. Remember that three of the 30 credits must be on ethics and professional responsibility (EPR).
CLE providers, such as State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE, typically submit programs or sessions for BBE approval in advance of the program or session. Thus, lawyers will know how many CLE or EPR credits are available for each program or session.
The BBE maintains a database of courses that it has approved for CLE credit. However, you may have attended an out-of-state program that was not submitted for approval to the BBE. With some exceptions, courses approved for CLE credit in other U.S. jurisdictions are considered approved for the same number of hours in Wisconsin.2
Normally, a maximum of 15 CLE credits may be earned through a “repeated on-demand program,” which is an “on-line program delivered over the internet, consisting of a program previously approved by the board.” Lawyers can watch on-demand programs anytime.
In this pandemic year, however, lawyers can obtain up to 30 credits through on-demand programming, under a temporary rule issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in March. One caveat: the order does not apply to EPR credits. EPR credits must still be obtained through live programming, which could include live webcasts or live telephone seminars.
Lawyer Understanding and Awareness (LAU); Law Practice Management (LPM)
Under supreme court rules, lawyers have the option to earn a maximum of six credits on subjects “designed to enhance a lawyer’s awareness and understanding [LAU] of substance abuse/dependence disorders, mental illness, stress management, and work/life balance relating to the practice of law.”3
Lawyers may obtain another six credits “on the subject of law practice management [LPM], which may include topics such as client communications, trust accounting, record keeping, applications of technology, and other subjects essential to the practice of law. Courses or portions of courses dealing primarily with profit enhancement or marketing of services will be denied credit.”4
PINNACLE program materials indicate whether the BBE has approved a session for LAU or LPM credit, as opposed to CLE or EPR credit. Just remember that the six-credit maximums apply to the LAU and LPM categories.
Tip for New Lawyers
If you were admitted to practice law in Wisconsin this year (2020), you are exempt from CLE attendance and reporting requirements for the current reporting period (Jan. 1, 2019 - Dec. 31, 2020). If you do earn credits this year, you can carry over as many as 15 credits into your next reporting period.
If you don’t want to sit in class for 30 hours, consider teaching or presenting. Presenting an approved CLE or judicial education activity, or teaching a course at an ABA-approved law school, are activities that count toward the 30-credit requirement.5
Lawyers can earn two hours for each hour of presentation of an approved CLE or judicial education activity, and one hour for each hour of presentation at a law school. There is no maximum on the number of teaching/presenting credits you may obtain.
Approved Legal Writing
Writing is another option to earn CLE credit. The BBE “may approve published legal writings for use toward the CLE requirement under rules it may adopt.”6 Lawyers can obtain up to 15 credits for writing.
That is, a lawyer may claim up to 15 hours of credit for approved legal writing that was published during the reporting period. But BBE rules limit the types of legal writing that will be approved. The legal writing must satisfy the following criteria:
The writing must be published, in print or electronically, in the form of an article, chapter, book, or significant revision;
The writing must be written in whole or in substantial part by the lawyer submitting the request for approval; and
The writing must satisfy the criteria set forth in SCR 31.07(2) (a) and (b) in that its objective is to increase the reader's professional competence as a lawyer, and in that its content must deal primarily with matters related to the practice of law, professional responsibility, or ethical obligations of lawyers.7
Thus, lawyers could obtain CLE credit for legal writings published in State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE Books. These rules also allow lawyers to obtain CLE credit for published articles in State Bar print and electronic publications, such as Wisconsin Lawyer™ and InsideTrack™ so long as the above criteria are satisfied.
To obtain credit, lawyers must submit CLE Form 4 (Request for Approval of CLE Credit for Published Legal Writing) to the BBE and attach a copy of the published work.
Certain types of published material are specifically excluded.8 That includes contributions to blogs, material produced on behalf of a client, and material appearing in media controlled by the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm, such as a law firm website.
Articles appearing in a publication for general circulation or directed to nonlawyer audiences are also excluded, as are materials developed for CLE presentations.
Want to Write for the State Bar of Wisconsin?
PINNACLE Books: Contact Carol Chapman by org chapman wisbar email or phone at (608) 250-6113.
Wisconsin Lawyer: Contact Karle Lester by org klester wisbar email or phone at (608) 250-6127.
InsideTrack: Contact Joe Forward by org jforward wisbar email or phone at (608) 250-6161.
Do Pro Bono Work
Supreme court rules allow attorneys to obtain CLE credit for “qualified” pro bono work.9 Attorneys can earn one hour of credit for every five hours of pro bono work, up to a maximum of six credits per reporting period.
The pro bono legal services must be provided through a “qualified pro bono program.” Four different types of programs are considered qualified pro bono programs:
a pro bono program operated by a nonprofit legal services organization that receives funding from the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation;
a pro bono program operated by a Wisconsin law school;
a pro bono program existing on the date that this rule was adopted that is operated by a Wisconsin bar association; and
a program approved by the board as a qualified pro bono program.10
Need help finding a pro bono program that qualifies? Contact Jeff Brown, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s pro bono program manager, by org jbrown wisbar email or phone at (608) 250-6177.
Tracking Your CLE
As you can see, there are numerous avenues to obtain 30 CLE credits every two-year reporting period. So how do you keep track of it all?
Good news. The State Bar of Wisconsin has a tool that will help you. It’s called myCLETracker. To use it, log in to WisBar.org and go to myStateBar at the top of the page, then click on myCLETracker.
As the name implies, myCLETracker helps you track CLE credits throughout a reporting period, but CLE credits must be reported to the BBE.
This is an important point because attorneys sometimes incorrectly believe that myCLETracker is a CLE reporting tool. But myCLETracker is not a mechanism for reporting CLE, it just serves as a reference guide when you do report to the BBE.
Questions about myCLETracker?
Contact the State Bar’s Customer Service Team by org service wisbar email or phone at (608) 257-3838, toll-free at (800) 728-7788.
Say you register and attend a PINNACLE event, such as the Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference or a one-hour webcast on real estate law.
Because you registered through PINNACLE, the program information automatically appears in myCLETracker, noting your attendance and the number of credits available (you can adjust the number of hours you actually attended). Refer back to this information when reporting CLE requirements to the BBE.
But say you attended an out-of-state program, or did pro bono work, or wrote an article that appeared in Wisconsin Lawyer. You can also manually enter data about these CLE activities.
When it’s time to report to the BBE, either electronically or on CLE Form 1, use myCLETracker as a reference tool to enter the information. Otherwise, you may rack your brain trying to remember it all later.
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Report to the BBE
You’ve been using myCLETracker. Now it’s time to report to the BBE. Go to the CLE reporting webpage on the Wisconsin Court System website. Starting this reporting period, all attorneys required to report must do so electronically. If you don’t have an account, you must create one in order to report CLE activity electrically.
If the BBE has not approved a CLE activity, you submit CLE Form 2 (Request for Approval of Continuing Legal Education Activity). And lawyers must use CLE Form 4 to obtain credit for published legal writing (there is no CLE Form 3).
Questions about CLE Requirements or Reporting?
Contact the Board of Bar Examiners by gov bbe wicourts email or phone at (608) 266-9760.
Failing to obtain CLE credits by Jan. 31, 2021, and report them by the deadline (Feb. 1, 2021) for the current reporting period) could result in the BBE imposing a $100 late fee. Failing to comply with CLE attendance and reporting requirements could result in suspension of your law license.
Exemptions to Attendance and/or Reporting Requirements
New lawyer? Attorneys are exempt from the CLE attendance and reporting requirements in the year of his or her admission to the practice of law in Wisconsin.11 For the current period, that would include 2019 admissions.
Did you attend CLE this year anyway? New lawyers who do earn CLE credit in the year of admission can carry forward up to 15 credits into the next reporting period.12
Attorneys who do not engage in the practice of law during the applicable reporting period are exempt from the CLE attendance requirement for that reporting period.13 However, the attorney will not receive any carryover credits if they do elect this exemption. And nonpracticing attorneys must still report the designation to the BBE.
Attorneys who principally practice law in other jurisdictions with mandatory CLE requirements are exempt from Wisconsin's CLE attendance requirement, but must still report the out-of-state CLE in order to maintain active standing in Wisconsin.14
1 An “hour” means a period of approved CLE consisting of not less than 50 minutes. SCR 31.01(4).
2 Rules of the Board of Bar Examiners, CLE 7.005.
3 SCR 31.02(3).
4 SCR 31.02(4).
5 SCR 31.05(3).
6 SCR 31.07(3); CLE 7.06 to 7.10.
7 CLE 7.06(1).
8 CLE 7.06(2).
9 SCR 31.05(7).
10 SCR 31.01(12).
11 SCR 31.04.
12 SCR 31.05(2)(a).
13 SCR 31.04(2).
14 SCR 31.04(3).