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    Inside the Bar: Comity Makes CLE Reporting Easier...Usually

    CLE compliance will be easier for most nonresident members.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 8, August 2008

    Inside the Bar

    Comity Makes CLE Reporting Easier … Usually

    State Bar members who practice primarily in other states will have an easier time meeting Wisconsin CLE requirements, now that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has adopted the comity provision. Reporting CLE compliance will be easier too, at least for most members in most jurisdictions.

    by George C. Brown,
    State Bar executive director

    George BrownIn December 2007, the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted revisions to the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) rules that created a so-called "pure comity" provision. Essentially, this means that State Bar of Wisconsin members whose practice is principally in another state that has mandatory continuing legal education will be exempted by the BBE from the attendance requirements in Wisconsin. This change first applies to lawyers who must report to the BBE this year. The rule change still requires you to report to the BBE.

    The effort to create this comity provision has been a decade-long quest for the State Bar's Nonresident Lawyers Division and the BBE Review Committee. In the last several years, these two groups have worked closely with the BBE to get these provisions enacted.

    This new rule is a drastic change. Previously, the BBE considered such details about the other states' legal education requirements as whether the number of classroom minutes per credit hour were similar to those required in Wisconsin. Under the new rule, a member need only show compliance with the other state's CLE requirements.

    Of course, comity is only necessary for those lawyers working outside Wisconsin who also have clients in Wisconsin. If nonresident lawyers (that is, lawyers whose principal places of practice are outside Wisconsin) do not practice in Wisconsin during their two-year reporting period, they simply have to check the box on their BBE form indicating they did not practice in the state during those two years.

    Some members have asked why the State Bar does not regularly apply for Illinois credit. Doing so would allow dual-licensed members to run all their credits through one system and claim comity to the other state. The issue is one of cost. The Illinois CLE approval board requires that a provider pay either an annual $6,000 filing fee plus $1 per person per credit hour for each person applying for Illinois CLE credit or a $50 filing fee per course plus $1 per person per credit hour for each person applying for Illinois CLE credit. By contrast, Minnesota charges $35 for credit application per course per day. That would be $35 for the live program and then $35 for each video replay that occurs on a different day. On the other hand, the Wisconsin BBE does not charge any CLE provider anything to apply for Wisconsin credit.

    State Bar of Wisconsin members also licensed in Illinois might not need Illinois credits. Illinois is the latest state to institute mandatory CLE requirements, and it has its own comity provision. A Wisconsin lawyer actively licensed in Illinois does not need to get Illinois credits if the lawyer meets all four of the following criteria: 1) The lawyer is a State Bar of Wisconsin member; 2) Wisconsin has a minimum CLE requirement (it does); 3) The lawyer has proof of compliance with the Wisconsin CLE requirements; 4) The lawyer is regularly engaged in the practice of law in Wisconsin.1 That lawyer is eligible for comity in Illinois and thus does not need Illinois credits.

    But Illinois comity is unavailable for Wisconsin-licensed lawyers who live in Illinois and whose principal offices are in Illinois but who get most of their credits from Wisconsin. For Wisconsin reporting purposes, they can just fill out the BBE form with their Wisconsin courses to fulfill the Wisconsin requirements. However, since their practices are in Illinois, they will have to apply to Illinois themselves for approval of their Wisconsin courses.

    So, as long as you know the exceptions for those Wisconsin lawyers whose primary offices are outside the state, CLE reporting in Wisconsin just got easier, usually. (To make reporting even easier, don't forget to access My CLE Tracker when you logon to WisBar.org.)

    1To be regularly engaged in the practice of law in Wisconsin, an attorney must hold active status in the State Bar of Wisconsin, maintain his or her primary office or place of employment in Wisconsin (even if the attorney is a resident of Illinois or another state), and be able to prove that Wisconsin is the primary place of employment through other representations, such as office letterhead, income taxes, and professional liability coverage.