Beginning in 2014, ISBA's entire online CLE catalog will be available to members at no charge, expanding the freely available programming from 35 to 550 hours.
The Illinois State Bar Association will be "drastically increasing" the selection of online continuing legal education programs available for free to its members in 2014.
As of early January, nearly 21 full days' worth of programs in almost every practice area imaginable will be part of the free CLE available on the ISBA's website. Eligible ISBA members will be able to pick and choose which of those programs they study for credits that can be applied to the 30 hours of continuing education Illinois lawyers are required to obtain every two years. (For more, see pages 2 and 3 of this issue.)
Choices for nearly every practice area
"We are drastically increasing the number of programs available, going up from about 35 hours of content [available in 2013]," said Jeanne B. Heaton, the ISBA's director of CLE. "We're opening up the entire archived catalog, which contains over 500 hours, so that each attorney can select topics of interest and topics that are related to their specific practice areas."
Eligible ISBA members are entitled to up to 15 free credits per year of online CLE programs, which can account for the 30 total credits that lawyers must earn and report every two years. (Visit isba.org/freecle for eligibility details.) But with less content available last year, there were fewer options for lawyers trying to earn credits in particular practice areas.
The limited choices did not stop the Free CLE channel from becoming a popular part of the website, Heaton said, but now lawyers will be much more likely to find the subjects they are most interested in for their educational requirements, including many options that qualify for the six professional responsibility credits lawyers must obtain every reporting cycle. Also included is a six-hour basic skills course that must be completed by all new lawyers, she said.
"We record most live programs, and studio programs are also prepared specifically for our FastCLE archives, so we know we have hours and hours of quality, Illinois-specific CLE," Heaton said. "We were leading the charge in offering 15 free hours a year and we saw the popularity of the Free CLE channel, and we thought it was best to allow it to be tailored to every attorney's needs."
Heaton said the ISBA's CLE Committee recommended this expansion to the Board of Governors in its October 2013 meeting. The Board quickly approved the recommendation, "and we've been working ever since on the technical aspects of implementation with an early January target date," Heaton said.
A bold move
In 2006, Illinois became one of the last states in the nation to start requiring its lawyers to participate in continuing education programs. Lawyers must report at least 30 approved credits of CLE every two years, including six credits of professional responsibility courses.
"When the CLE Committee recommended to the Board of Governors that the CLE options be expanded, we recognized that there will be a potential loss of income because fewer programs will be purchased." Heaton said. "I really applaud our leadership for recognizing that if our mission is to educate lawyers, we should be educating them in ways that will make them better in their particular practice areas, and to do that we needed to offer more choices." Thankfully, she said, the ISBA Mutual Insurance Company is subsidizing the program with a generous sponsorship.
Heaton said the association hopes that offering such a smorgasbord of free CLE programs will help retain its current members and attract new ones. She said the 15 free hours available every year has a value of about $345, whereas annual ISBA membership dues range from nothing for first-year lawyers to $320 for lawyers who have been practicing for 20 years or longer.
"Our leadership decided that with tough economic times and fewer legal jobs, we wanted to help practitioners where it really counts: In their specific practice areas," Heaton said. "So we took a bold move" and made the entire archive of programs available as part of the free CLE program.
Heaton said the CLE Committee is also working towards launching an online CLE tracker at some point. In addition to the two CLE credit reports the ISBA already sends to members each year, the CLE tracker would allow members to review their earned credits at any time from any computer with an Internet connection.