There have been seismic shifts in the way attorneys practice their craft due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. From onboarding new clients to preparing for trial, the pandemic has turned the way we practice law on its head. The same is true of the way that attorneys complete their continuing legal education (CLE) requirements each year.
Like with many other legal deadlines, states across the country extended deadlines for completing and reporting CLE hours. Additional changes were made to the way lawyers earn these hours. Below, I review the drastic changes that some states have made to their CLE process as well as take a look at what the future holds.
Changes for 2020 Reporting
There are a number of changes that were made to CLE requirements across the country for 2020. Some states loosened requirements on how CLE could be earned, while others extended the deadline for completing and reporting CLE hours during the year. At the extremes, some states suspended all CLE requirements while others left their requirements unchanged during the pandemic.
Loosening of CLE Requirements
One approach that a large number of states undertook involved loosening the types of credits that were accepted. This was primarily an option among states that only allowed a limited number of self-study hours or CLE credits from on-demand video. Many of these states waived most or all of the requirements regarding these hours taking place in person. These changes included everything from general self-study to research as well as recorded, non-interactive video conferences. Each state’s approach differed in that regard.
This approach was adopted by my home state of Minnesota. Minnesota typically provides a 15-credit limit when it comes to the use of on-demand videos for CLE purposes. The state also operates on a three-year reporting period instead of requiring annual reporting for all attorneys. The end result was that criminal defense attorneys reporting for the 2017 through 2020 period were authorized to obtain all of the CLE credits virtually through on-demand learning.
Extension of Deadlines
Arguably the most common option for changes to CLE requirements involved extending the deadline to complete CLE courses, the deadline to report those hours, or both. These extensions were as short as month or as long a six or seven in some cases.
Many states, including Arizona, typically have two important dates for CLE. These include a June deadline for completing the course and a September deadline for reporting all of the hours. In 2020, Arizona pushed both deadlines back to December 30, 2020. Other states, like California, offered shorter extensions. In that state, the California Bar extended the CLE deadline from June 30 to September 30.
In a few states, this deadline has been extended beyond 2020 entirely. For example, Kentucky pushed back the reporting date for the 2019-2020 CLE cycle to June of 2021. These hours do not have to be reported until August of 2021.
There have also been some extended deadlines related to the consequences of noncompliance. Not only did Missouri extend its reporting date, the Supreme Court also opted not to assess any late fees for an additional three months after the reporting deadline ended.
Indefinite Suspension of All CLE Requirements
Some states went even farther by suspending all CLE reporting requirements indefinitely. This broad suspension of reporting requirements was less commonly used compared to other options, but there were some states that initially suspended CLE requirements entirely.
Connecticut was the primary example of this broad approach. According to a decision by the Superior Court, the minimum continuing legal education rules were suspended indefinitely. The Superior Court cited as their motivation the limitations placed on public gatherings.
No Changes to CLE Requirements
Not every state adjusted their continuing legal education requirements as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, a variety of states refused to take any steps to either extend credit reporting dates or to loosen reporting requirements. States including Alaska chose to continue their normal approach to CLE in 2020 and beyond.
It should be worth noting that the majority of states that did not make any modifications to 2020 CLE requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic already make allowances for most or all of an attorney’s hours to be completed online. Some states that already allow attorneys to complete their CLE requirement entirely through on-demand video classes saw little reason to alter deadlines or further reduce requirements.
2021: A Return to Normalcy?
The year 2020 saw drastic changes to the process of completing and reporting CLE hours across the county. In 2021, many states seem to be returning to normal. Many of the extensions and changes that were made in 2020 were not extended into 2021.
Consider Connecticut, which suspended their CLE requirements for the entire year of 2020. That is not the case in 2021, as the state has opted to return to its normal CLE schedule. In positive news for attorneys in the state, the State of Connecticut Superior Court is allowing any credits earned during 2020 to be carried over to 2021.
Other states seem to be considering permanent changes based on the rules adopted during the coronavirus pandemic. While all CLE deadlines seem to be on track to come to an end, it is likely that many states will continue to loosen their requirements on live, in-person CLE courses. Iowa is only one example of a state that has made permanent changes to in-person CLE requirements during the pandemic. It remains to be seen how other jurisdictions learn from these administrative changes once the pandemic is over.
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