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  • August 26, 2022

    Are Changes Coming to CLE Requirements?

    The Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to provide competent, diligent representation to clients. This includes, among other things, understanding our clients’ lived realities, even when they differ from our own experiences. Elizabeth Stinebaugh considers that soon, courses that focus on learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion may be allowed to fulfill continuing legal education requirements.

    Elizabeth Stinebaugh

    Please note that any opinions expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent any position of the State Bar of Wisconsin nor any State Bar section.

    The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes to the legal profession, including changes in how Wisconsin lawyers can fulfill their continuing legal education (CLE) credits. Now another change may be coming.

    SCR 31.02 requires Wisconsin attorneys to take a total of 30 CLE credits during every two-year reporting period. A maximum of 15 of those credits can be “on demand,” meaning replays of a previously recorded CLE program. The remaining 15 must be “live,” either as in-person seminars or live webcasts. Wisconsin attorneys must also take a minimum of 3.0 ethics credits per reporting period, which must be live (in-person or live webcasts). Senior active attorneys (those 75 years and older and still practicing law) must take a minimum of 15 CLE credits per reporting period.

    Elizabeth Stinebaugh, District of Columbia 2013, is a staff attorney in the Racine office of Legal Action of Wisconsin, and is the firm’s Employment Priority Committee coordinator, where she focuses primarily on relieving barriers to employment for low-income Wisconsin residents.

    When most live CLE opportunities were cancelled starting in March 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued Order 20-01, which allowed for Wisconsin attorneys to complete their entire 30 CLE credits by on-demand credits. This Order was initially issued on March 17, 2020, and has been extended in some form through Jan. 31, 2023.

    The ABA recommended in 2017, as part of its Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE), to include a mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) CLE credit. Other Midwestern states, including Minnesota and Illinois, already have a mandatory DEI CLE credit. Now, the State Bar of Wisconsin has submitted Rules Petition 22-01, which petitions to allow Wisconsin lawyers to fulfill a portion of their CLE credit requirements by attending courses

    on the subject of diversity, equity, inclusion, access, or recognition of bias, which includes topics addressing diversity and inclusion in the legal system of all persons regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disabilities and topics designed to educate attorneys on the recognition and reduction of bias.

    The Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners has proposed an alternative, which would cap the number of CLE credits for DEI courses at 6.0 per reporting period, and would require courses to focus on “the subjects of diversity, equity, inclusion, access, or recognition of bias within the legal system.”

    Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., a nonprofit civil legal aid law firm, has proposed making it a mandatory requirement for each Wisconsin attorney to take at least 1.0 DEI CLE credit per reporting period.

    As public interest attorneys, we often have no control over the clients we are tasked with representing. They may be of a different race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation and can have dramatically different life experiences than our own. For many of us, our clients live in poverty, are elderly, or are considered disabled.

    Arguably, it is our ethical duty to educate ourselves on the realities our clients face, so that we can competently and diligently represent them and their interests. To that end, the Public Interest Law Section makes it a priority to consider DEI issues when planning our CLE courses. Now, it appears the Wisconsin Supreme Court may be poised to increase the opportunity for Wisconsin lawyers taking DEI courses to count them as CLE credits for reporting purposes.

    Editor's note: The State Bar of Wisconsin Board of Governors has submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to consider recognizing DEIA CLE offerings as a voluntary option for CLE credit. The State Bar’s petition does not request mandatory credit​ requirements.​

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Public Interest Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Public Interest Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.




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    Public Interest Law Section Blog is published by the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Richard Lavigne and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Public Interest Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

    © 2022 State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

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