CLE is a crucial part of being a lawyer. Sure, it is required by most U.S. states for you to retain your license, but this shouldn’t be your sole motivation to earn legal credits.
So you passed the bar, and are now a full-fledged lawyer. After so many years of studying, you think you’re finally free from those textbooks as you live the dream and work for a reputable firm.
Or are you?
Similar to many other professional fields, passing the bar is actually only the beginning of a lifetime commitment to learning and studying. This is because every end of the year—sometimes biennially—you, like most lawyers in the United States, would have to earn continuing legal education credits. In short, you continue your legal education as a lawyer. This is actually very important for a number of reasons.
Let’s take a look at why you should strive to continue your legal education as a lawyer:
It’s a Requirement for You to Keep Your License to Practice Law
In the U.S., only a few states do not have continuing legal education (CLE) requirements for lawyers. These include the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota and Michigan. The rest, though, require a minimum number of hours for you to spend on earning legal credits so you can retain your license to practice law. Since there is no nationwide minimum number of hours for CLE, the minimum number of hours you need to spend on studying varies per state. If, for instance, in your state, you are required to render 12 CLE hours for over a period of one year, you would have to devote those 12 hours to studying all over again after each year.
Apart from the required minimum number of hours and the period of time within which the study should have been completed, some states also specify the hours of the total minimum number of required CLE hours that should be devoted to a specific subject or a specific type of course. For instance, of the 45 minimum CLE hours Colorado requires every three years, 7 should be devoted to ethics. In Maine, of the 11 minimum CLE hours required every year, 5.5 hours can be recorded programs, but the rest have to be live.
Lawyers who don’t comply with the required CLE can face a hefty fine or can even be barred from practicing law for a period of time, depending on the state.
Here are some of the worst sanctions you can face for non-compliance:
- In New Jersey, you pay a fine of $150 and may be administratively suspended and unable to practice law.
- In Virginia, you pay a $100 penalty for non-compliance, $100 for late filing, and another $100 for really late filing.
- In Texas, you pay a fine of $100 for every month after the end of the period within which you should have complied that you’ve failed to complete the requirements. Once you reach the end of the fourth month without complying, you will be administratively suspended.
- In Wyoming, you pay a $300 penalty. If you fail to comply even during the late deadline of March 1, you will you have to explain to the court why you shouldn’t be suspended, and pay another $300.
Without CLE, you may no longer be able to practice law.
It Helps You Keep Abreast of Developments in the Field
Laws are constantly changing, which means the laws you may have studied in law school may already be obsolete a few years from now. But, it’s not only these laws that are in a state of flux. Every day, there are decisions issued by courts, both federal and state, that become a part of jurisprudence. It pays to know what these developments are because you never know which of these will come in handy when you are chosen to represent someone who figured in a car crash, for example. As your client’s lawyer, you have the responsibility to equip yourself with the knowledge that you need to help your client win their case. Of course, you can only do this if you continue your legal education as a lawyer.
In a courtroom, it’s typically the lawyer who reads a lot and who can cite precedents, relevant laws, and jurisprudence who succeeds. Continuously learning and gaining more knowledge can give you fresh perspectives and better insight into a case, which can help you come up with a strong argument for your client, as well as the right strategies that can help your case succeed.
It Allows You to Contribute More to Society
Let’s face it: lawyers are an integral part of society not only because they have a broad knowledge of the law, but also because they are crucial to the following, among other things:
- The administration of justice
- The promotion of development
- Legal discourse
Government lawyers, for instance, have the great responsibility of keeping people who pose a danger to the general public away from the streets. He’s a convicted murderer? She’s an arsonist? It’s the prosecutor who finds a way to keep them in jail. And, then there are lawyers who try to change the world with their advocacies for societal development. Lawyers Without Borders, for example, renders pro bono work to those who are underserved. They are also very vocal about human rights protection, and as such contribute to the existing legal discourse that can lead to government action.
More often than not, then, whatever a lawyer does with respect to the law is relevant and may have far-reaching consequences. If you don’t improve your knowledge of the law, your contributions to society will not be as optimal or effective. And society, as it were, wouldn’t progress as much.
CLE is a crucial part of being a lawyer. Sure, it is required by most U.S. states for you to retain your license, but this shouldn’t be your sole motivation to earn legal credits. More importantly, you should render those required minimum CLE hours to better your skills and knowledge for your clients and for society as a whole, which very much relies upon your contributions to progress.
With CLE, you help make the world a better place.