A lawyer’s education doesn’t end the day they graduate from law school.
Working in the complex and ever-evolving legal industry, attorneys have a duty to keep up with the latest developments in the law, court rulings, advancements in the profession, and legal technology. With this in mind, many jurisdictions require lawyers to complete a certain number of hours of continuing legal education (CLE) each year—via paid CLE courses, free CLE credits, or a combination of both.
But just how many CLE credits do you need to earn and report each year, and where can you earn free CLE credits?
If you’re a legal professional looking to earn CLE credits, we’ve got you covered. In the following post, we’ll outline how to find your CLE requirements, places where you may earn CLE credits for free, and how to report them.
What is CLE?
Continuing legal education (CLE) is the ongoing professional education that lawyers complete after they’ve obtained their initial legal education and admission to the bar. Attorneys earn CLE credits by completing CLE-eligible activities, such as courses, webinars, and workshops related to the law.
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Keep in mind that CLE requirements for attorneys vary by jurisdiction. Some states have no CLE requirements for attorneys, while others have very specific requirements that lawyers must meet to maintain their license to practice law.
Depending on your state’s specific CLE rules, you may be required to:
- Complete a minimum number of CLE credits within a certain time period.
- Complete CLE training on specific topics. (In New York, for example, attorneys are now required to complete one hour of cybersecurity, privacy, and data training to meet their CLE requirements.)
- Maintain specific records of CLE completion. This could include specific rules for keeping copies of attendance records or certificates for specific periods of time.
- Complete CLE credits live in person. Certain states have rules for how many CLE credits can be completed via online courses.
Note: Because the rules for CLE vary considerably depending on jurisdiction, it’s essential that you check with your specific state bar association to determine your specific requirements, as well as if any particular CLE courses or activities you’re considering are eligible for CLE credit for you.
How can I earn CLE credits?
As we will discuss later in this post, there are many ways for lawyers to earn CLE credits, also known as CPD (continuing professional development) credits in Canada. While many CLE-eligible programs require a registration fee to register for a course or workshop, you can also look for opportunities to earn CLE credits in other ways.
If you’re attending a legaltech conference like the Clio Cloud Conference, for example, you can potentially earn CLE or CPD credits by participating in certain eligible sessions. While legaltech conferences like ClioCon are not free, the opportunity to earn CLE credits while you’re already there learning about the latest in the industry can add value to your time at the conference.
Beyond paid CLE opportunities, you can also look for ways to earn CLE credits for free.
Earning CLE credits for free
Depending on the CLE rules and regulations of your jurisdiction, there may be several ways to earn free CLE credits. Many organizations and state bar associations offer free CLE-eligible events, as well as other opportunities for earning CLE credits without paying additional fees.
While it’s important to confirm with your state bar association which avenues are eligible for you, some common ways to earn CLE credits include:
- Completing free CLE-eligible online courses or webinars.
- Attending CLE-eligible live seminars or workshops.
- Publishing legal articles or books.
- Participating in legal research.
- Providing pro bono legal services.
Experienced attorneys may also be able to earn CLE credits by sharing their knowledge with other attorneys at CLE events. In New York, for example, attorneys can earn CLE credit for teaching, speaking, or moderating at an accredited CLE program.
Where to earn free CLE credits
Whether it’s mandated by your jurisdiction or you simply want to stay current on your skills and knowledge of the law, CLE opportunities are essential for attorneys—but taking multiple paid CLE courses each year can get expensive. Fortunately, there are a variety of free CLE opportunities to consider.
Not sure where to begin your search for places to earn free CLE credits? The following list of resources provides good starting points:
State bar associations
Your state bar association is the best place to check your CLE requirements—and it’s also a great place to look for free CLE events. Many state and local bar associations offer free CLE-eligible events for members, so check your jurisdiction’s program catalog to look for options.
A few examples of free CLE-eligible content via state bars include:
- The Idaho State Bar Practice Sessions and District Bars have offered free CLE courses to serve all members of the bar since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) offers over 700 hours of on-demand CLE content for eligible ISBA members to earn up to 15 MCLE credit hours per bar year.
- The West Virginia State Bar offers a collection of free online CLE opportunities via recorded seminars coordinated by the WV State Bar.
The American Bar Association
The American Bar Association (ABA) is a professional organization for lawyers and legal professionals across the United States and beyond. The ABA has resources for legal professionals, law school accreditation, and model ethics codes, among other opportunities—including an array of CLE programs for free for its members.
The ABA offers unlimited access to more than 600 widely-accredited online CLE webinars and on-demand programs at no additional cost for ABA members as part of their Member Benefit Library. The Member Benefit Library is updated with more programs added monthly.
Recent examples of some on-demand CLE programs available for free for ABA members include:
- Navigating Ethical and Legal Practice Landmines
- Only the Lonely: The Importance of Finding Meaning & Connection in the Legal Profession
- Uses and Abuses of Generative AI and the Ethics of Its Use by Attorneys and Judges
In addition to the free member-benefit CLE library content, the ABA also offers a number of paid online CLE programs at a discounted rate for members.
With free monthly CLE-eligible events, Clio makes it easy to stay up-to-date with the latest changes in laws, practice management, and legal technology—all while helping you meet your CLE requirements.
Each month, Clio brings in experts to speak on a variety of topics, including those related to:
- Cases and legal updates.
- New legal technologies.
- Best practices for running your law firm.
Clio’s CLE activities are accepted in many—but not all—US states (you can see which states have accepted credits from Clio’s free CLE events here), so be sure to check with your state bar for more information on whether you can receive CLE credit for Clio courses in your jurisdiction.
Clio’s CLE-eligible courses offer multiple benefits if you’re looking for free CLE credit opportunities:
- They’re free. Participation in Clio CLE credit events is available at no cost.
- They’re open to everyone. You don’t have to be a Clio customer to take one of Clio’s free CLE courses.
- They’re convenient. Because Clio’s courses are delivered online, you can potentially earn CLE credits from wherever you’re working. Of course, you’ll want to confirm the requirements pertaining to online CLE credits for your jurisdiction.
Note: No matter where you look for free CLE credit opportunities, be sure to check with your local state bar to verify the accreditation status before you begin any courses. It’s important to be sure that any credits you earn can be counted towards your requirements.
What are my CLE requirements?
The exact CLE requirements you need to follow in order to stay compliant and maintain your law license depends on the rules apply to your jurisdiction. Some states do not have CLE requirements, while others have mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) requirements.
States can have very specific MCLE rules pertaining to factors such as:
- The minimum number of CLE credits you must complete in total.
- The minimum number of CLE credits you must complete for specific topics (for example, some states have minimum CLE credit hours that must be completed in areas like ethics, professionalism, technology, and data privacy).
- The minimum number of CLE credits you must complete live or in-person.
- The deadline for when you have to earn CLE credits by.
- Whether credits can be carried over from one reporting period to the next, and how many credits can be carried over.
- How and when you must report CLE credits.
You can look up an overview of your jurisdiction’s rules via Lawline here, and then be sure to confirm with your state bar association.
Reporting CLE credits
While the specific rules you must follow vary by jurisdiction, it’s important to maintain detailed records of any CLE-eligible activities that you complete to stay compliant and meet your CLE requirements.
These records may include details like:
- The CLE program’s title and date
- The number of CLE credits earned
- The program provider’s name
Depending on your jurisdiction, you may need to report your CLE credits through an online portal (though some states have CLE sponsors report attendance lists). There may also be specific rules for how and how long you need to keep records of your CLE credits, too.
You can check the general guidelines for how to report your CLE credit hours by state via FindLaw’s list here, and be sure to confirm the specifics with your state bar association.
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Final notes on free CLE credits
Ongoing legal education is key for lawyers who want to maintain their professional standards, keep their skills sharp, and stay on top of their ethical responsibilities—but paying for multiple CLE courses every year can get expensive.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to earn free CLE credits so that you can meet your jurisdiction’s MCLE requirements while also learning the latest updates, skills, and practices that you need to know.
The key? Start by checking with your state bar to know exactly what requirements you need to meet, then look for CLE-eligible opportunities available—without additional costs—from places like the ABA, your state bar, and even Clio.
Want to check out what CLE-eligible events Clio has on the calendar? You can explore Clio’s upcoming free CLE-eligible webinars here.
We published this blog post in November 2023. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Business