Nov 6, 2013 – Those who were admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in an odd-numbered year must complete their continuing legal education credits by Jan. 31, 2014, and report them to the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) by Feb. 3, 2014.
The BBE monitors lawyer compliance with continuing legal education (CLE) requirements. Every two years, lawyers must report CLE credits to the BBE, aside from lawyers who are exempt. For instance, a lawyer is exempt from CLE attendance and reporting requirements in the year of admission to practice law in Wisconsin.1
This article provides an overview of CLE reporting. It also discusses a new rule that allows lawyers to obtain CLE credit for substantive articles published in electronic formats like WisBar InsideTrack, not just print publications, with some restrictions.
State Bar members should note that WisBar’s myCLETracker allows lawyers to track CLE attendance at events sponsored by State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE™, and manually add programs sponsored by other CLE providers. But attorneys must report CLE credits to the BBE, not the State Bar. myCLETracker just makes it easier to track courses.
“Sometimes attorneys get confused by this distinction,” said Jacquelynn Rothstein, director of the BBE. “They sometimes think they are reporting to us by recording CLE credits through the State Bar. But reporting must be done separately through the BBE.”
How Many Credits Do I Need?
Active status lawyers’ need 30 credits (hours) every two-year reporting period, with a minimum of three credits in “legal ethics and professional responsibility.”2
Joe Forward is the legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
Lawyers may earn a maximum of 10 “on-demand” credits per reporting period, but ethics credit cannot be earned on-demand.3 On-demand courses are pre-approved CLE courses that allow lawyers to view programs on-line anytime. Scheduled CLE seminars offered on the web, such as webcast replays, are not considered “on demand.”
In other words, lawyers must accrue 30 hours per reporting period (three ethics credits) and 20 credits must be earned through in-person programs or live webcasts, webcast replays, video replays, or telephone programs offered in specific time slots.
If a lawyer has excess CLE hours beyond the required 30 credits in a reporting period, up to 15 hours may be carried forward to the next reporting period in some circumstances.4 Excess ethics and professional responsibility credits may not be carried forward.5
In addition, lawyers who have not practiced law in a given reporting period can file a CLE “attendance exemption,”6 and lawyers who fully comply with mandatory CLE requirements in another state can get a “comity exemption”7 in Wisconsin. The BBE can also waive attendance requirements, or grant extensions in certain cases.8
To avoid a late fee of $100 and other potential penalties, including suspension from the practice of law, lawyers must obtain all CLE credits no later than Jan. 31, 2014 (a one-month grace period), and file their CLE report to the BBE no later than Feb. 3, 2014.
As mentioned, a lawyer is exempt from CLE attendance and reporting requirements in the year of admission to practice law in Wisconsin, and is not required to file anything with the BBE.9
How Do I Report CLE Credits to the BBE?
Rothstein encourages lawyers to electronically file CLE Form 1, the form used to report CLE credits for the specific reporting period. Lawyers can file electronically by visiting the BBE’s reporting website, which requires them to create an online account through the Wisconsin Court System. CLE Form 1 is also available in a fillable electronic format that can be printed and submitted via U.S. Postal mail, or printed and filled out by hand.
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- Visit the BBE’s “continuing legal education” webpage for electronic filing instructions, forms, and other information on reporting CLE credits.
- Want to write an article for a State Bar publication that might qualify for CLE credit? Explore the different ways to contribute through WisBar’s News & Publications page.
Electronic reporting allows lawyers to search for and add BBE-approved courses they attended during the reporting period. Approved courses are listed by program date and location. WisBar’s myCLETracker helps lawyers pinpoint dates and course titles.10
Many CLE providers, such as State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE, obtain preapproval of courses before they are offered.
Through the BBE’s electronic reporting system, attorneys can add pre-approved courses and self-report CLE-approved out-of-state courses. In addition, lawyers can self-report courses delivered by CLE providers with “general program approval.”
For instance, the American Bar Association (ABA) has general program approval from the Wisconsin BBE for the 2012-13 reporting period. If the specific ABA course is not listed as preapproved, report the ABA course under the general program approval category. State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE, and many other providers, also have general approval.
For lawyers who attended or taught a course that has not been approved through the preapproval or general program approval process, they must file a CLE Form 2 to request approval for CLE credit. Approval decisions are usually made within a week, but may take longer if a request is submitted during peak CLE reporting months (November-January). Approvals are automatically added to the “approved” course list.
However, if the reporting deadline is approaching, lawyers can submit CLE Form 2 along with CLE Form 1, but electronic filing is not available in this circumstance.
Can I Get CLE Credit for Published Legal Writings?
The BBE may approve up to 15 hours for published legal writings, which now include legal writings published in electronic formats. Previously, only articles appearing in print books, manuals, or publications listed in the Index to Legal Periodicals qualified, including articles written for State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE books or Wisconsin Lawyer magazine.
The new rule was effective on Sept. 20, 2013. That means any lawyer who published an article in electronic publications after this date may qualify for credit. Substantive articles published in WisBar InsideTrack, for instance, could now qualify. Also, articles published in State Bar section newsletters could qualify at the BBE’s discretion.
However, all articles must meet certain requirements to qualify for credit. The lawyer must “increase the reader’s professional competence” and deal primarily with matters related to the practice of law, professional responsibility, or lawyer ethical obligations.11
In addition, the rule specifically excludes “contributions to blogs or brief current-awareness entries in newsletters or magazines” and material appearing in any media, whether print or electronic, that is controlled by the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm.
While lawyers cannot get credit for articles posted to their own blogs, law firm websites, or in publications of general circulation, they can submit CLE Form 4 to obtain credit for substantive articles in other print and electronic publications directed to lawyers.
Note, however, that the BBE has not yet updated CLE Form 4 to reflect the rule change. Rothstein said the BBE will update this form very soon.
Lawyers wishing to obtain credit for legal writings should submit CLE Form 4 via postal mail to the BBE along with a copy of the publication, leaving time for BBE review.
Can I Get Credit for Teaching?
Lawyers can get CLE credit for teaching. Any lawyer who teaches an approved continuing legal education course, such as one sponsored by State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE, can get two CLE credits for each hour presented. Lawyers can also get one credit for each hour of instruction taught at an ABA-approved law school.12
1 Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 31.04(1) (exemptions).
2 SCR 31.02 (attendance requirement).
3 SCR 31.05(5)(a)-(d) (approved hours).
4 SCR 31.05 (2)(a)-(c) (approved hours).
6 SCR 31.04(2) (exemptions).
7 SCR 31.04(3) (exemptions).
8 SCR 31.12 (extensions and waivers).
9 SCR 31.04(1) (exemptions).
10 If you registered for a State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE event, the credits will automatically appear in myCLETracker after the event takes place. Other programs must be added manually.
11 See SCR, ch. 31, Appendix, Rules of the Board of Bar Examiners, CLE 7.06 (standards for approval of continuing legal education activities).
12 SCR 31.05 (approved hours).