Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting Free or Cheap CLEs

CLEs are expensive. If you are a Minnesota lawyer who does not have an employer willing to pay for your continuing education, you have probably wondered if there are free or low cost ways that you can accumulate some CLE credits. Most of the free CLEs are short, so you are talking about picking up one or two CLEs at a time. Which involves quite a bit of running around. But if you are unemployed or in a low income situation, it's a way to keep your license without making matters worse. Here are some that I have found. If you don't have time to read this whole post, you might skip to where I reveal the Best Tip Of All.

The CLE Board has a web site with a link to an article from Minnesota Lawyer that contains some good suggestions. For example, the article points out that the law schools have CLE programs that are free or low cost to any lawyers, not just for alumni. I recently went to a couple of very good short presentations at Hamline Law School. I have also been to presentations at Mitchell, the U of M, and St. Thomas, all very good. I would suggest checking out the web sites for each law school and see if you can sign up for an email list that will send you notifications of their CLE programs.

The Attorney General's office has a program of free or low cost CLEs. It doesn't look to me like there is a way to find out about them through the AG web site. You might need to make a call over there to find out who organizes their CLEs and get on their email list.

Don't be bashful about attending in-house CLE presentations. In-house presentations can only be approved for CLE credit if enough announcements are sent to outside lawyers so that 25% of the audience can potentially be outside lawyers. So you are doing them a favor by getting on their announcements list and attending their in-house presentations.

Another state agency that has a CLE series is the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. I just went to one of them. It was free, it was excellent, and it got me two ethics CLE credits. There is a link on their web site to a schedule of their “Educational Seminars.”

A colleague of mine recently clued me in on a Chicago law firm that offers free live web CLEs. I have viewed a couple of these. They do have the feature that a live web CLE needs for CLE credit to be approved in Minnesota – the ability to ask the presenters questions via your web link. The firm is Foley and Lardner, LLP. I have done a couple of these, with success.

Minnesota Lawyers Mutual, a leading malpractice insurance firm, has for many years offered an all-day CLE on ethics and malpractice issues that is free and high-quality. However, I don't see a schedule of future seminars on their web site, so I worry that they might have canceled the series. That would be too bad.

Here's the Best Tip of All: If you teach a CLE, you get CLE credit not only for your time teaching at the CLE, but also for all your preparation time. So if you teach a one-hour CLE and spend three hours preparing for it, that's four free CLE credits. And any lawyer can teach a CLE. So if you have some experience in an area of law, you might put the word out that you're available. Note that people who organize in-house CLEs are required to have 25% of their instruction time taught by outside attorneys in order to meet the standards for approval of CLE credits. Why couldn't that be you?

Another thing any lawyer could do is organize your own CLE and teach it. You need an “outside lawyer” to teach part of the course. You need to make some efforts to invite outside people. You need to have some expertise or experience in your subject matter. There is a $35 fee for applying for course accreditation, but that obviously can be split with other attenders. If you make a serious effort at putting together something worthwhile, my experience tells me you have a good shot at getting approval for about an hour of CLE credit for each hour of instruction time. Suitable free conference rooms are often available in public libraries or even park buildings. You might have some luck getting space in a law school classroom, but I haven't actually tried it. Anyway, it may seem like a lot of trouble to organize a CLE to get cheap CLE credits, but remember that you get credit for both your teaching and preparation time. Check out the Rules of the CLE Board. Might well be worth it.