If you are an attorney, in most states, there is no escaping it—you will need to deal with CLE requirements. The vast majority of state bars require continuing legal education (CLE) for lawyers, in order to ensure they remain up-to-date on the most current laws and ethics requirements. Since CLE requirements must be met in order to keep your license to practice law, an attorney has no choice but to understand these requirements well.
While CLE requirements may seem burdensome, the good news is there are numerous CLE providers that can help meet these requirements, often with easy-to-attend online courses. Moreover, ongoing education can be viewed as a positive thing, regardless of your state bar’s particular requirements. Continuing education can help an attorney stay on top of their game in a wide variety of topics, ranging from new legal developments to practical guidance to ethics and diversity.
What are CLE credits?
CLE requirements vary by state, but they all include a minimum number of CLE hours per reporting period, whether that period is one year, two years, or more. Each hour of CLE is generally considered a CLE “credit.”
Why are CLE credits important?
CLE credits are clearly important as part of a minimum requirement to practice law in your jurisdiction. However, CLE credits should be viewed as more than simply a box to check off. They can also help attorneys stay abreast of changes within the profession. Those changes can be updates in their particular practice area or broader-ranging industry shifts. CLE credits can also address innovations and developments related to digital aspects of the legal industry, such as data security and artificial intelligence.
How do I obtain CLE credits?
The appropriate methods of obtaining CLE credits will depend on state bar requirements, but they generally include attendance at online courses, webinars, and legal conferences. Other possibilities for CLE credit include volunteering, mentorship, teaching CLE courses, and pro bono work.
There are many excellent resources available for obtaining CLE credits. Clio webinars cover a wide variety of topics and often include CLE credit, depending on the jurisdiction. Legal conferences such as ClioCon often provide CLE credit for attendance at some sessions. Also check with state bar associations and the America Bar Association (ABA)—these organizations can often direct attorneys to private state-approved CLE providers.
CLE requirements: State-specific examples
CLE requirements vary widely by jurisdiction. The variations often include the actual number of CLE credits required, the reporting period—generally ranging from one to three years—and the time of year the credits are due. There are also differences in the types of activities that are CLE-eligible and the required topics, such as ethics or diversity. Finally, the consequences for failing to meet CLE requirements also differ from state to state.
The following sections provide examples of what CLE requirements look like in different states. These examples are generally drawn from the most highly populated states with the highest numbers of attorneys, in order to provide a sense of the wide variation in CLE requirements nationwide. However, always be certain to check with your particular state bar association to ensure you are remaining in compliance with your jurisdiction’s requirements.
New York CLE requirements
New York is unique among the U.S. states for having different CLE requirements for different tiers of attorneys. Specifically, attorneys admitted to the state bar for two years or less are considered “newly admitted attorneys,” while those admitted for over two years are considered “experienced attorneys.” While experienced attorneys are required to earn 24 CLE credit hours every two years, newly admitted attorneys must earn 16 credit hours per year for both their first and second years of admission.
There is also a difference in the breakdown of types of CLE credits required for newly admitted and experienced attorneys. For the 24-hour biennial requirement for experienced attorneys, (1) four hours must cover ethics and professionalism, (2) one hour must cover diversity, inclusion, and elimination of bias, and (3) one hour must cover cybersecurity, privacy, and data protection.
Newly admitted attorneys have their CLE hours even more tightly proscribed: (1) three hours must cover ethics and professionalism, (2) six hours must cover skills, and (3) the remaining seven hours must cover one of several named areas, including law practice management.
California CLE requirements
According to the California CLE requirements, attorneys must complete 25 CLE hours every three years. Out of that total, (1) four hours must cover legal ethics, (2) one hour must cover competence issues, and (3) one hour must address the recognition and elimination of bias.
At least half of the 25 CLE hours — meaning no less than 12.5 hours — must be for “participatory” CLE credit, and no more than 12.5 hours can be self-study. The state considers credit participatory if (1) you sign in at the time of the activity (electronic sign-in also works), (2) the CLE provider keeps a record of the signed-in participants, and (3) the provider issues a certificate of attendance.
Florida CLE requirements
Florida attorneys are required to complete 33 CLE hours every three years. Of these hours, (1) one hour must cover professionalism, (2) three hours must address technology, and (3) five hours must be in the area of ethics, professionalism, substance abuse, mental illness awareness, or bias elimination.
Important changes to Florida CLE requirements are taking effect in January 2024. Per a recent Florida Supreme Court order, the CLE hours required per three-year reporting period will be reduced from 33 to 30. A new requirement will be added for a two-hour course on legal professionalism. For the currently required five hours on ethics, professionalism, and other topics, “bias elimination” will be removed from the list of topics.
Texas CLE requirements
The State Bar of Texas requires admitted attorneys to complete 15 CLE hours annually. 12 of these hours must be in accredited CLE courses, which can include live group presentations, online courses and webinars, and downloadable programs. three hours must be in legal ethics/legal professional responsibility. Up to three hours can be self-study.
Illinois CLE requirements
Illinois attorneys must complete 30 CLE hours for every two-year reporting period. These hours must include six professional responsibility hours. Of the professional responsibility hours, one hour must cover diversity/inclusion, and another hour must cover mental health/substance abuse. The Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board of the state’s supreme court maintains a listing of all courses approved for Illinois CLE credit.
CLE requirements for lawyers admitted in multiple jurisdictions
For lawyers admitted in multiple jurisdictions, what do CLE requirements look like for them? If one state requires 15 CLE hours and the other requires 12 hours, will the attorney have to complete 27 CLE hours in total?
While this ultimately depends on the jurisdictions involved and the specific state requirements, an attorney may be able to earn credits from both jurisdictions for one course. Seek out courses that are approved for CLE credit in all states you are admitted. Also take note of any bar reciprocity between the states, which may mean you can practice in another state without completing additional CLE requirements.
CLE requirements: final thoughts
While CLE requirements are minimum standards imposed by state bar associations, lawyers can benefit from the ongoing training provided by CLE courses. First understand the CLE requirements of your jurisdiction, and then you can craft a CLE plan that fits your own aspirations. Look for CLE-eligible webinars provided by Clio, or plan ahead and sign up for ClioCon 2024 in Austin, Texas, which will provide CLE-eligible sessions.
We published this blog post in November 2023. Last updated: November 16, 2023.