Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Top ten questions about MCLE

This is a reprint, with the author's permission, of an article by Lee Goodman that I saw in Monday evening's Law Bulletin. Goodman is the president of Professional Education Resource Corporation, which offers approved Illinois MCLE courses online at mentorCLE.com.

A bit of confusion has arisen about the new Illinois MCLE requirements. This is not surprising, considering this is the first year that Illinois lawyers will be required to comply with all the new rules governing MCLE. Nevertheless, attorneys need to understand the rules, because failure to comply with the rules can have serious consequences, including the possible loss of one’s law license. This article answers ten of the questions attorneys ask most frequently about the MCLE rules.

Q) How many ethics courses do I have to take?
A) You do not have to take any ethics courses. You only have to take four hours of “professionalism” courses, which can cover topics such as diversity, Alternative Dispute Resolution, law practice management, and other topics, including ethics.

Q) So I need four hours of professionalism credits?
A) You need at least four hours of professionalism, but all 20 of your hours can be professionalism courses if you want, or any number between 4 and 20.

Q) Can I get credit for in-house training at my law firm?
A) You can get credit for some in-house training, but each training session must be individually registered and approved by the MCLE board. The mere fact that your firm may have registered as an “approved provider” is not sufficient.

Q) Can I take a course more than once?
A) There is no limit on how many times you can get credit for taking the same course, but you must wait 12 months between each time you take a course if you want to get credit for it more than once.

Q) Do I need to take courses from “approved providers?”
A) No. The term “approved providers” is misleading. It mostly has to do with how long the provider has been in business. What is important is whether the course is approved, not whether the provider is. You can get credit for courses that are offered by providers that are not “approved providers”, so long as the courses have been individually approved by the MCLE board. Note: The MCLE Board’s website lists courses by the date they were originally approved. Courses that are offered multiple times, including online and recorded courses, can be approved for multiple years, so you may have to look for them in lists from prior years. If you have any questions about whether a course has been approved, the MCLE board recommends that you contact the course provider.

Q) Do all of the courses offered by “approved providers” comply with the Illinois MCLE rules?
A) No. Some of these providers are offering courses that may not meet the requirements of the Illinois MCLE Board. Courses offered by “approved providers” are only presumptively approved, and they may not actually qualify for credit. This applies both to “approved providers” that are located outside Illinois and those that are based here. Make sure every course has been individually approved or meets the requirements for approval.

Q) Can I get credit for self-study?
A) Yes. For example, you can take all of your courses online or on pre-recorded tapes. You cannot, however, get any credit for reading law reviews, books, articles, courses, or any other written material.

Q) How else can I get credits?
A) You can get credit for writing published articles and for certain types of teaching. But be careful – the rules are a bit tricky, and they are not obvious. For example, you can get credit for teaching at a law school if you are a part-time faculty member, but not if you are full-time. And you cannot get credit for giving a speech at a law school.

Q) What if I have more credits than I need?
A) You can carry over excess credits into the next two-year reporting period. Up to a maximum of 10 hours can be carried over from one reporting period into the next. No professionalism credits can be carried forward to satisfy the professionalism requirement, but they can be carried over as general credits.

Q What happens if I don’t get my credits on time?
A) If you miss the deadline for getting your credits, you have to pay a late fee to the MCLE board. The fee starts at $100 and goes up the longer you wait. If you wait too long, you can lose your law license. If this happens, your malpractice insurance may lapse. Even if you later get your credits and have your license restored, there may be a gap in your insurance coverage. In addition, if you lose your license, you cannot be listed as “of counsel” to a firm. You may also be disqualified from doing other work, such as serving as an arbitrator in mandatory arbitration.

The MCLE rules may seem a bit confusing at first, but Illinois’ MCLE rules allow attorneys many options, so it should be relatively easy to find a way to get the credits you need. A very broad range of courses are permitted both for general and professionalism credits, so lawyers should be able to find courses that are of interest to them, either in areas they practice in or in areas they would like to learn about. Lawyers are also allowed to take courses that are presented in a number of different ways, such as recorded video and online courses. This is particularly helpful to attorneys whose schedules make it difficult for them to attend live seminars or who might live in areas where few seminars are available. And the MCLE Board has made allowed a large number of providers to offer courses, so a great selection of courses is available.

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