Continuing Education for Lawyers

The National Law Journal [sorry, subscription required] reported today there are fewer licensed lawyers in Illinois:

The Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, an agency of the Illinois Supreme Court, booted 587 active attorneys from the state’s so-called “master roll” this year when they failed to file the paper work showing they had completed 20 hours of certified legal training between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008. The lawyers were officially removed from the roll after being sent three reminder letters late last year.

Illinois conceptualized mandatory CLE in 2005 with an initial scaled in requirement of 20 hours.

There were about 2,000 lawyers out of compliance as of December, but the commission made phone calls to many of the lawyers to remind them about meeting the new CLE requirement, even after the letters were sent, said Jim Grogan, who is chief counsel for the commission. About 1,400 lawyers immediately came into compliance, but the remaining 587 probably include some lawyers who are still practicing while others may have moved, died or retired, he said.

We have posted on mandatory CLE at Slaw in the past. Many jurisdictions in Canada have recent law society rules regarding mandatory continuing professional development reporting. For example, in Alberta, there is a requirement of intentionality. Lawyers must plan to learn and be prepared to report their efforts to the Law Society.

… we think that a self-directed, lawyer-centred learning process is more likely to result in effective and relevant self-improvement.

There are similar CPD requirements in Manitoba.

Saskatchewan has a mandatory minimum of 12 hours per year. British Columbia also has a minimum andOntario approaches the issue this way:

A reasonable minimum expectation for self-study hours is 50 hours per year. A reasonable minimum expectation for participation in continuing legal education activities is 12 hours per year.

Although all jurisdictions offer continuing legal education, not all are subscribing to the intentionality or reporting requirements models. In Nova Scotia, CLE is offered and it is simply left to the lawyer to comply with the competency rule of the Law Society. The Federation of Law Societies has a nice summary page pointing to law society or bar association CLE providers for all of Canada.

When you consider that the activities that are considered CLE [from the Manitoba reporting form] it really isn’t difficult to collect a minimal amount of learning.

Typical professional legal education learning activities that would be included in this section include:
• Live programs, workshops, and conferences, such as those offered by the Law Society of
Manitoba, the Manitoba Bar Association, Canadian Bar Association, Federation of Law
Societies and other continuing legal education providers
• In-house legal education programs offered by law firms and in-house legal departments
• Interactive on-line programs
• Video and DVD replay programs in an organized group setting
• Organized education discussion groups, such as MBA subsection meetings
• Participating in post-LLB degree programs
• Teaching in CPLED, continuing legal education programs, and law school programs
• Preparation time for teaching in any of the above

How many hours of CLE do you consider reasonable?


  1. I don’t consider most CLE hour requirements reasonable, because they usually don’t have any impact on improving the skills of the lawyer. This is not like a surgeon taking a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery, it’s more like a surgeon hearing about a technique or two, that may or may not have anything to do with her patients, and not learning how to actually execute that technique. Many CLEs teach you just enough to know that you don’t know how to handle the subject matter. And CLEs give you full credit even if they have nothing to do with what you do for your clients.

    As a result, it seems like CLE does not meet the goal of ensuring better quality lawyers for society.

  2. The CLE mechanism as it is currently structured (particularly in Ontario) seems not to address the concerns of either interested party: the public and the profession. Surely, however, there must be a way of managing the matter which addresses the concerns of relevance (raised by Jason Mark, above), fitness to practice and efficiency.

  3. The persistent complaint that a continuing legal education requirement is not necessary due to a lack of meaningful or competent programming is profoundly meritless. Like every other product, there are useful and expendable seminars available. It’s incumbent upon the participant, in this case, the attorney, to seek out programs (from the thousands available!) that are relevant.

    The analogy to the medical profession produced a chuckle since similar complaints can be found there from those who find continuing education to be an inconvenient burden.

    Naysayers will always abound, however, crying inconvenience or a drowzy approach to ferreting out useful programming is not a platform on which to make an argument against mandatory continuing legal education.