After several years of discussion and debate, the Illinois Supreme Court, on September 29, 2005, adopted new and amended rules requiring all active practitioners licensed in Illinois to comply with a “Minimum Continuing Legal Education” (MCLE) requirement. The new MCLE rules are found in Part C of the Supreme Court Rules on Admission and Discipline of Attorneys (SCR 790 through 797), and the full text of these rules is available online at <http://www.state.il.us/court/SupremeCourt/Rules/Amend/2005/MRAmend092905.htm>.
The preamble to Part C of the new rules sets forth the court’s rationale for establishing these new MCLE requirements. The MCLE rules “are intended to assure that those attorneys licensed to practice law in Illinois remain current regarding the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill the professional responsibilities and obligations of their respective practices and thereby improve the standards of the profession in general.”
The following is a brief outline discussing the application and content of the new and amended Supreme Court rules.
To Whom Do the MCLE Rules Apply?
Supreme Court Rule 791 provides that the MCLE requirement applies to all lawyers “admitted to practice law in the State of Illinois.” However, certain exemptions from the requirement are provided in Rule 791 for the following attorneys:
- attorneys on inactive or retirement status;
- attorneys on disability inactive status;
- attorneys serving in the office of justice, judge, associate judge or magistrate of any federal or state court;
- attorneys who are on active military duty;
- attorneys who, in addition to being licensed in Illinois, are members of the bar of another state which has a MCLE requirement, who are regularly engaged in the practice of law in that state, and who are in compliance with the MCLE requirements of that state;
- attorneys who, in “rare cases,” are granted a temporary exemption from the MCLE requirement based upon a showing of “good cause.” “Good cause” may exist in the event of illness, financial hardship, or other “extraordinary or extenuating circumstances beyond the control of the attorney.”
What Do the MCLE Rules Require?
Supreme Court Rule 794 provides the following MCLE requirements:
- 20 hours for the first two-year reporting period (which begins July 1, 2006, and ends June 30, 2008 for lawyers with last names ending A-M and begins July 1, 2007 and ends June 30, 2009 for lawyers with last names ending N-Z);
- 24 hours in the second period (ending ’10 and ’11); and
- 30 hours every two years after that.
- Credit hours are actual time (60-minute hours, as opposed to the 50-minute hours used in some states).
In addition, please note that Rule 794(d) also mandates what is called a “professional responsibility requirement.” As part of (not in addition to) their total MCLE hours, attorneys must have four hours of training in “professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues, civility, or legal ethics” during each two-year period.
For brand-new attorneys, Supreme Court Rule 793 provides special requirements. A basic skills course is required for all lawyers admitted after January 1, 2006, unless they have practiced in another jurisdiction. The basic skills course must be a 15-hour course, taken within a year of admission and including training in practice, ethics, and office management. New lawyers are exempted from other MCLE requirements during their first year, and start their first reporting period on July 1 of the next even numbered year for lawyers whose last names begin with A-M and July 1 of the next odd numbered year for lawyers whose last name begin with N-Z.
Rule 794(c) provides that CLE hours can be carried forward. Starting with programs presented January 1, 2006, attorneys who are not newly admitted can carry 10 hours into any subsequent reporting period. Newly admitted lawyers can carry 10 hours earned after completing their basic skills training into any reporting period.
In What Ways Can Attorneys Obtain CLE Credit?
Supreme Court Rule 795 sets forth the criteria which eligible CLE courses and activities must meet in order for attorneys to obtain credit for attendance. The course or activity:
- must have “significant intellectual, educational or practical content”;
- must deal “primarily with matters related to the practice of law”;
- must be offered by “a provider having substantial, recent experience in offering CLE or demonstrated ability to organize and effectively present CLE”;
- must be conducted by “an individual or group qualified by practical or academic experience”;
- must have “[t]horough, high quality, readable and carefully prepared written materials”; and
- must be “conducted in a physical setting conducive to learning.” Please note that the rule allows the CLE course or activity to be presented by remote or satellite television transmission, telephone or videophone conference call, videotape, film, audio tape, or over a computer network. However,
- the content and provider of the CLE course or activity must be approved by the nine-person MCLE Board; and
- the Board must find that the method of delivery of the program or activity has “interactivity” as a key component.
- “Interactivity” may be shown by the opportunity for the viewers or listeners to ask questions of the course faculty, either in person, by telephone, or on-line; or through the availability of a qualified commentator to answer questions directly, electronically, or in writing; or through computer links to relevant cases, statutes, law review articles or other sources.
In addition, Rule 795 sets forth “nontraditional courses or activities” which may receive CLE credit:
- attendance at “in-house” seminars, courses, lectures or other CLE activity presented by law firms, corporate legal departments, governmental agencies, or similar entities;
- attendance at J.D. or graduate level law courses offered by American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools;
- attendance at bar association meetings at which substantive law, matters of practice, professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues, civility or legal ethics are discussed;
- attendance at courses or activities that cross academic lines, such as accounting-tax seminars, or medical-legal seminars;
- teaching CLE courses;
- part-time teaching of law courses at an ABA-accredited law school, or teaching a law course at a university, college or community college;
- writing law books and law review articles;
- pro bono training; and
- Capital Litigation Trial Bar training.