Constant Low Effort, Part 1: CLE Requirements and You

Welcome to the jungle on another amazing Monday, in fact the final Monday and the last day period of the opening of the pits of Hell that has been the year 2018. Because, you know, amongst the continuing social and political divide, an economy and stock market that’s acting like an adrenaline-addicted bungie jumper, and the now regular unmasking of horrible people whose thin facades of respectability led us to respect, the year has actually passed us by. Here on Lawyers & Liquor the year has passed mostly in silence and delay as injuries, staffing issues, and a significant increase in the number of duties at my job have forced me to don the mantle of the Boozy Barrister less often and actually, you know, focus on the practice of law for the benefit of my clients. So, yeah, I mean, I guess I’m sorry for not being here more because I actually felt like eating during 2018.

But more than not updating the site, being busier than hell during this past year has made it damn near impossible to stay up to date throughout the year on one of the basic requirements for practicing law. You know all know I mean those goddamn courses required of pretty much all practitioners no matter where you may be within these wide and wild United States of America. Except, of course, Maryland, which apparently decided attorneys there need no mandated courses to remain up-to-date on the law which, fun fact, is the same reason lawyers in Maryland still wear wigs and address the court as “M’Lord” prior to going outside and giving a crisp red apple to the horses they ride to the courthouse. But for those you not initiated into the ranks of the practicing lawyer, be you the fetal law student of the lowly Muggle, or simply the Baby Lawyer who’s currently exempted from the annual requirements of your bar by virtue of your absolute worthlessness to the practice in general right now, you cannot possibly know the struggle of the Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) requirements imposed on us real lawyers by pretty much every state bar an attorney is licensed to practice under. And, folks, those courses are a real pain in my large, flabby ass.


Of the 51 jurisdictions in that United States (excluding the territories), which includes the District of Columbia, 46 of them have CLE requirements of some sort. To make this simple, if you practice or plan to practice only in Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, South Dakota, or the District of Columbia nothing I’m about to say really applies to you. Feel free to spend the remainder of this post sitting back in your chair and laughing at those of us who still have to suffer under the yoke of the CLE industry, but remember, you can’t be too fucking smug because some of you still live eat too much Old Bay, live in Detroit, have to deal with Patriots fans, deal with government motorcades or, in the case of South Dakota, are literally one of two people in your county and therefore end up representing a lot of cattle.


Outside of those 4 states and one federal district that’s a state in the same way Pinocchio is a real boy , if you’re a lawyer then you’re dealing with CLE requirements. But it isn’t like those requirements are universal, despite the fact the hassle from them is. Requirements for states range from 3 hours of CLE courses per year all the way up to 45 hours of the same half-assed education over the course of 3 years and oh my fucking god could you imagine being the guy who did jackshit for the entire reporting period and spent a three day weekend doing nothing but going from CLE course to CLE course like an unsleeping, unwashed, starving legal internment camp prisoner? Seriously, you know there’s some poor guy doing that shit today as the end of his reporting period draws near, listening to an online course entitled something like “Copyright of Underwater Basket Designs by Left Handed Artisans.” Shine on, you smelly, tired, procrastinating asshole, shine on.


In addition to the widely varying number of CLE hours someone needs to keep their asses licensed and legal, the manner in which an attorney can actually obtain those hours differs from state to state as well. In Pennsylvania, for example, I have to get 12 CLE hours per year. 2 of those hours have to be in an ethics-based course, while 10 of them need to be in a substantive area of law. Of those 12 hours, I can only obtain 6 of them through “distance learning” methods, and otherwise have to attend live seminars for the remaining 6 hours. Kentucky has similar requirements: 12 hours, 2 ethics, 6 distance learning, 6 in person. So, let’s say I do a live teleseminar (it’s a fucking conference call) or webinar (it’s a fucking Skype conference call) with a moderator on the other end who can answer questions. I can do it from the comfort of my office or home, but there’s a live moderator on the other end of the line, so is it distance learning or in-person when it comes to consideration for my hourly requirements?

Like literally everything in the fucking legal world, the answer is “it depends.” In Kentucky, the presence of a live moderator on the other end of the line during a live presentation, even if you’re viewing it remotely from your office or home, makes the CLE course over teleseminar or webinar a live course and therefore counts towards the 6 credit hours you have to take in person. However, in Pennsylvania those hours definitely do not count towards the Live Education requirement of the CLE – they’re specifically stated to be “distance learning courses” by the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board. This is because Pennsylvania considers a course as counting for the live credits only if: (1) the attorney is physically present in the same room as the presentation and (2) there is a live moderator present who can take questions. Which has resulted in some weird ass situation where I’ve driven an hour to sit in a room where they literally show a video like the bored high school substitute teacher left without a lesson plan, and had the legal equivalent of that substitute sitting at the front of the room dicking around on their phone waiting for questions that would never come. That counts as live, but participating in a conference call presentation where I can ask the presenter questions directly does not.

So, even if I could or would get more out of the teleseminar or webinar because it’s a live, on-going presentation with the presenter available to me, the fact that I can do it without putting on pants and leaving my living room means in Pennsylvania it automatically doesn’t qualify for my live course credits. The result then is that, as I did last weekend, I haul my ass to a hotel conference room thirty minutes away to sit with a shitload of other lawyers on a Saturday to stare blankly at a presenter at the front of the room talking about whatever bullshit a CLE provider could get approved. This criticism, by the way, isn’t even getting into situations like Alaska where the entire CLE requirement can be fulfilled through online courses. Or the fact that, if you’re licensed in more than one state you may end up doing multiple CLEs for each goddamn state you’re licensed in.


Remember that movie The Fifth Element when Lelu walks up to the counter at the spaceport and presents her ID while saying “Multipass” and the dude is like “Cool, that meets all of our requirements because it provides exactly the information we need.” You get the idea from the movie, and, you know, the fucking name, that a Multipass is a pass of some sort that can be used in multiple situations that are similar in nature as it meets all of the necessary requirements. Ah, the beauty of the future.

CLEs are fucking nothing like that shit.

CLEs are more like your college ID, which may or may not be treated as a valid form of identification based on the whims of whatever agency you present it to. Each state with mandatory CLEs has some form of a committee that both accredits CLE providers and, in many cases, approves the CLE courses for credit – determining what type of credit they’re valid for at the same time. So even if a CLE provider (the private universities of the legal education world) is, say, approved to provide courses in one state that you’re licensed in there’s no guarantee they’re approved to provide courses in all the states you’re licensed in. Which, you know, in this highly digital age where attorneys can represent people remotely in a variety of states and therefore may be licensed in several jurisdictions at the same time, is sort of a big fucking deal. Likewise, even if a provider is approved to provide courses in every state you’re licensed in the specific course you’re taking may not be approved in some of the states or may only be approved for a different type of hours in the other state, such as substantive instead of the all-important ethics hours.

So, say you’re licensed in New York and Minnesota. There’s a real possibility you’re going to end up paying for two completely different sets of CLEs for both the states. Especially if there’s an “in person” requirement and for some reason there aren’t very many New York approved CLE courses being presented live in Minnesota. So tack on some travel expenses, motherfucker, because the practice of law is about to become a hell of a lot more frustrating.

Oh, but you know, you can always submit the credit hours to the bar yourself and hope they approve the hours retroactively, essentially taking a gamble on the CLE board having mercy on you and, in effect, doing the fucking CLE provider’s job for them. That’s an option. Because with 24 hours to go before your reporting deadline that’s a hassle you need.

Next Time

Getting the idea here? Good. Because the idea is CLE hours are a huge pain in the ass and we’re not fucking done yet. Now that you know what CLE’s are, next time we’re going to talk about the major goddamn problems with CLEs because, believe it or not, the shit I’ve talked about today aren’t the big problems with CLEs. The big problems with CLEs are that they, in reality, don’t really do shit to improve the practice of law and just scare the shit out of lawyers.

But we’re at like 1,700 words and I got shit to do today, so that’s for next time