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Meeting MCLE requirements just got a little easier
Among other welcome changes, rule revisions allow new admittees to meet their initial requirement by participating in mentoring and remove the fee for claiming credit for writing and teaching.
The Illinois Supreme Court has issued new rules on mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE). Highlights of the changes include more flexibility to newly admitted lawyers for completing their initial 15 hours of required CLE and elimination of the $20 fee for claiming MCLE credit for nontraditional activities such as writing legal articles. The amendments affect SCRs 791, 792, 793, 794, 795, 796 and 799, and became effective on September 27, 2011.
More options for basic-skills training
Beginning with lawyers admitted to practice on or after December 31, 2005, the court has required newly admitted lawyers to take a 15-hour basic skills course since it adopted its MCLE rules in that year. With the court's amendment to SCR 793, those new lawyers must still complete 15 hours of CLE. However, they now have additional options for allocating those hours.
From now on, the basic skills course defined by SCR 793(c)(1) need be a minimum of only six hours instead of 15. Whatever the length of the course, six hours must be approved for professional responsibility credit and must cover topics such as practice techniques and procedures under the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, client communications, use of trust accounts, attorneys' other obligations under the Court's Rules, required record keeping, and professional responsibility topics such as professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues and civility.
In its website FAQ, the MCLE Board advises that a person may elect to take the Basic Skills Course at any time after taking the Illinois bar exam but before being sworn in, though a prospective lawyer who either doesn't pass the exam or isn't sworn in may not claim credit for the course and will have to repeat it after retaking the exam.
The recent amendments also make the basic skills course optional. Newly admitted lawyers may forego the course and still satisfy their professional responsibility requirement by participating in a mentoring program that the Commission on Professionalism has approved pursuant to SCR 795(d)(12). The MCLE Board notes that lawyers may not begin a mentoring program for this purpose until they have been sworn into the bar and are on active practice status with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.
Whether newly admitted lawyers opt for the basic skills course or the mentoring program, they must also complete at least nine additional hours of MCLE credit by the last day of the month that occurs one year after their admission to practice in Illinois. SCR 793(c)(2) states that those CLE credits may include any number of hours approved for professional responsibility credit; indeed, the rules permit new lawyers to take CLE on any subjects they choose for those nine hours.
Goodbye to the $20 fee for "non-traditional" credit
Cynics may be surprised to learn that the court has departed from long-established government precedent that taxes and fees are never eliminated, only maintained or raised. For all two year reporting periods ending June 30, 2012 (lawyers whose last names end with A through M) and after, lawyers no longer must pay a $20 fee to claim MCLE credit for nontraditional activities. Under SCR 795(d), those activities include pro bono and capital litigation bar training, teaching CLE or law courses, attendance at bar association or professional association meetings at which substantive law, matters of practice, professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues, civility, or legal ethics are discussed, or legal scholarship. The Illinois MCLE Board's fee schedule is at http://www.mcleboard.org/fee-schedule.htm.
The amendments do not change the basic MCLE requirements that lawyers must complete 30 hours of CLE activity for the two-year reporting periods ending June 1, 2012, and later. But the maximum 10 hours of CLE credit that lawyers may carry over from one reporting period to the next may now include professional responsibility credit hours.
Additionally, under amended SCR 794(c)(2)(ii), lawyers first admitted to practice in Illinois on or after July 1, 2009, may now carry over to their first two-year reporting period up to 15 CLE hours if those hours were earned after the lawyer's admission to the Illinois bar and before the start of the lawyer's first two-year reporting period. Up to six of those hours may be hours approved for professional responsibility credit.
Both the court's amendments and its press release highlight the court's recent emphasis on mentoring programs. Not only may newly admitted lawyers now satisfy their initial six-hour professional responsibility CLE requirement by participating in a mentoring program, but experienced lawyers who serve as mentors in approved mentoring programs may earn up to six hours of professional responsibility credit, the full amount required, during a reporting period. SCR 795(d).
Jeanne Heaton, ISBA's Director of Continuing Legal Education, praised the court's changes. "We think that the new options will allow newly admitted attorneys to tailor their selections to fit their particular practice area and settings."