Oct. 19, 2016 – The clock is ticking. If you were admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in an even-numbered year, you must complete your continuing legal education (CLE) requirements soon, and report them to the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE).
Under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 31.02, lawyers must attend a minimum of 30 hours1 of approved CLE during each two-year reporting period. Of those 30 hours, at least three hours must be on the subject of legal ethics and professional responsibility.
Some attorneys may be exempt from the attendance requirement.2 That includes attorneys who don't practice law and new attorneys admitted to practice law in 2016.
Joe Forward, Saint Louis Univ. School of Law 2010, is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6161.
The current reporting period (2015-16) applies to attorneys admitted to practice law in an even-numbered year. CLE courses must be completed by Jan. 31, 2017, and CLE Form 1 must be submitted to the BBE by Feb. 1, 2017.3 Failing to meet these deadlines may result in a $100 late fee and other penalties, including law license suspension.
While this article provides a basic overview of CLE attendance and reporting obligations under SCR Ch. 31, attorneys should consult the rules, including rules of the BBE, to ensure they are meeting the requirements specific to their circumstance.
How Can I Earn CLE Credit?
The majority of CLE credit for educational programming must be earned in-person, or through telephonic or web-based seminars delivered live at a scheduled time. Not more than 10 hours of credit may be obtained through "repeated on-demand programs," which are repeatedly delivered over the internet "on demand" by the attorney.
But attorneys can earn CLE credit in other ways, such as teaching and writing. In the next reporting period, attorneys will be able to earn CLE credit for doing pro bono work.
Attorneys can also earn CLE credits for "teaching an approved continuing legal or judicial education activity or teaching a course in a law school approved by the American Bar Association," under SCR 31.05(3). There is no limit on teaching credits.
Attorneys may receive two hours of credit for each hour of presentation at approved continuing legal or judicial programs, such as a State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE™ program, and one credit for each hour taught at an ABA-approved law school.
Finally, attorneys may obtain up to 15 credit hours for "published legal writings" in print or electronic form.4 The BBE follows the criteria set forth at CLE Rule 7.06 (under SCR Ch. 31) to determine whether a published legal writing qualifies for CLE credit. For instance, attorneys will not receive credit for posting to a blog controlled by the attorney or the attorney's law firm, or posting content in publications directed at nonlawyers.
However, attorneys may receive credit for substantive legal writings that appear in State Bar publications, such as Wisconsin Lawyer™, InsideTrack™, or PINNACLE™ books, and other legal publications if written to increase the readers' professional competence.
Pro Bono CLE Available Starting in 2017
Effective Jan. 1, 2017, attorneys can earn up to one hour of CLE credit for every five hours of pro bono work, up to a maximum of six credits per reporting period. The rule applies to pro bono work performed on or after Jan. 1, 2017.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court approved this new rule in April, at the request of the State Bar of Wisconsin. The court also approved a rule that expands pro bono opportunities for "registered" in-house counsel who are not licensed Wisconsin lawyers.
To get pro bono credit, an attorney must provide direct legal services without fee or expectation of fee through a "qualified pro bono program" or pursuant to an appointment by a state or federal court.
"Qualified pro bono program" means "a pro bono program operated by a nonprofit legal services organization that receives funding from the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation." (See 2016 WisTAF Grant Recipients).
Qualified pro bono programs also include pro bono programs operated by a Wisconsin law school, a Wisconsin bar association, or other programs with BBE approval.
The State Bar of Wisconsin, for instance, operates numerous pro bono activities, including Wills for Heroes, and maintains a pro bono directory to help attorneys connect with pro bono opportunities. Contact State Bar of Wisconsin Pro Bono Coordinator Jeff Brown by email or by phone at (608) 250-6177 for more information.
Reporting CLE to the BBE
Attorneys must report CLE credits for their two-year reporting period to the BBE, not the State Bar. BBE Director Jacquelynn Rothstein has previously noted that attorneys are sometimes confused by this distinction, likely because the State Bar has a CLE tracking tool (discussed below), allowing lawyers to track CLE throughout the reporting period.
The BBE highly encourages attorneys to report CLE electronically, through its CLE reporting website. Filing electronically requires attorneys to create an account. The primary reporting document, CLE Form 15, can also be submitted via postal mail.
When reporting, attorneys list the CLE programs they have attended during the reporting period. Attorneys are also allowed to "carry forward" up to 15 credits from a previous reporting period, if certain conditions are met.6
General Program Approval
Some CLE providers, including PINNACLE™ and the American Bar Association, have "general program approval" (GPA), which is awarded annually to high-volume CLE sponsors that consistently demonstrate compliance with CLE approval standards.
When filing with the BBE, attorneys will list GPA courses separately from other courses without such approval, unless the program did not include ethics credits.
If an attorney attended the GPA course out-of-state, however, he or she must calculate the number of credit hours the course is eligible to receive and actual hours attended.
For in-state GPA providers, the number of credit hours that the program is eligible to receive should be noted. However, if the program is eligible for more credits than the attorney attended, the attorney will need to note the actual hours attended.
For non-GPA providers, such as many in-state law firms that provide education training, attorneys can check the program's approval status when electronically reporting for the period. Or, if filing on paper, attorneys can check course status by going to the court's website for continuing legal education and "searching for courses."
In addition, some out-of-state CLE providers submit the course for BBE-approval, even if they are not GPA providers. That might be the case for CLE providers in neighboring states, for instance, that draw Wisconsin attorneys. Again, lawyers can check the course or program status through the "search courses" function just mentioned.
The BBE will also accept for credit out-of-state programs that were accepted for CLE credit in that jurisdiction but not submitted for BBE approval. Credits are limited to the number of credits approved in that jurisdiction. Attorneys self-report these credits separately and must document the out-of-state approval when filing the CLE Form 1.
If you attended a program that does not appear to have BBE or out-of-state approval, you should make an inquiry with the BBE to determine the status of that program.
You may be required to submit CLE Form 2 to request credit approval. The BBE encourages attorneys to submit this form early, before the seasonal reporting peak (November through January) to ensure a timely response to the CLE request.
However, "activities that are approved by the board either before or after the close of the reporting period may be used to satisfy the attendance requirement."7
CLE Form 2 states that "course approval forms arriving at the Board office with Report of Compliance (CLE Form 1) will be separated and processed independently."
Attorneys attempting to receive credit for a published legal writing must submit CLE Form 4 to obtain pre-approval before claiming credits on CLE Form 1.8 Attorneys should submit CLE Form 4 as early as possible to ensure a timely response from the BBE.
Still Need CLE? Programs in the Coming Months
There's still time to attend the 2016 Wisconsin Solo and Small Firm Conference (WSSFC), Oct. 20-22, at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells. Walk-in registrations are accepted. So check out the schedule and come on up (or down, or over).
If you can't make it, check out the list of upcoming events sponsored by State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE™. Unless otherwise indicated, all programs offered through PINNACLE are preapproved for CLE credit by BBE.
You Could Be Exempt
New lawyer? Under SCR 31.04(1), 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. For the current period, that would include 2016 admissions. But new lawyers who do earn CLE credit can carry forward up to 15 credits to the next reporting period.9
Attorneys who do engage in the practice of law during the applicable reporting period are exempt from the CLE attendance requirement for that reporting period.10 However, the attorney will not receive any carryover credits if they do elect this exemption.
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.
myCLETracker: Tool of Convenience
WisBar's myCLETracker (available under the myStateBar tab at WisBar.org) automatically tracks CLE attendance at events sponsored by State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE™, as well as many programs co-sponsored by State Bar sections.
That is, if you register for and attend a PINNACLE-sponsored seminar or conference, you will see the credits automatically listed for that event in your personal myCLETracker, which is accessible through your online State Bar account.
myCLETracker also allows users to manually add programs sponsored by other CLE providers. For instance, attorneys can add a program they attended out-of-state, including sponsor, location, date, and CLE hours attended for that event.
Again, myCLETracker is not the official CLE reporting mechanism. It is simply a useful tool for State Bar members to contemporaneously track CLE credits throughout a reporting period and can be used as a reference when reporting to the BBE.
1 Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 31.01 (An "hour" means "a period of approved continuing legal education consisting of not less than 50 hours.").
2 SCR 31.04.
3 SCR 31.03.
4 SCR 31.03; CLE 7.06.
5 Note that all forms are available at the court's website for continuing education. However, at press time, CLE Form 1 had not been updated for the current reporting period. Please check to determine whether your forms, including CLE Form 1, CLE Form 2, and CLE Form 4, are updated before submitting them.
6 See 31.05(2)(a) (Ethics credits may not be carried forward).
7 SCR 31.05(1).
8 See CLE Form 4.
9 See CLE 4.01.
10 SCR 31.04(2).