Online MCLE Available from Numerous Providers
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Online MCLE is Available from Numerous Providers

by Carole Levitt, JD, MLS & Mark Rosch

Attorneys now have a lot of options on how to earn their MCLE credits, whether at live-seminars or online, but it didn't used to be that way. When I first learned about California's MCLE requirements in the '80s, I was convinced that "MCLE" stood for "Make Carole Levitt Exhausted" instead of "Minimum Continuing Legal Education." 36 hours of continuing legal education every three years? First, what was minimal about 36 hours? And second, as far as I was concerned, I had gone through enough continuing legal education already -- thanks to five years of an evening law school program that continued on and on and on.

In 2000, I was able to readjust my attitude about MCLE and say that "MCLE" stood for "Make Carole's Life Easier." It wasn't just the downward adjustment of the required hours from 36 to 25 hours that made my life easier; it was the California Legislature's declaration that attorneys could now satisfy MCLE requirements from the comfort of home -- via the Internet. By decreasing the number of hours required and allowing us to take them over the Internet, attorneys now had more options and could save both time and money. At the time, the concept was so new that there weren't many vendors to choose from. To help attorneys navigate these new waters, I prepared a survey of online courses for the July 2000 Los Angeles Lawyer 's "Computer Counselor" column (see http://www.lacba.org/lalawyer/tech/comp6-00.html).

We've Come a Long Way in the Online CLE World!

Flash forward 2.5 years. Andrew Zangrilli, editor of FindLaw's Modern Practice online magazine, asked me to write "something" about online CLE. It seemed the perfect opportunity to see how far we've come in this online CLE business. From the sheer increase in number of online courses offered, topics covered and online vendors, it's obvious how far we've come.

Finding these Cyber CLE courses and determining which ones have value is still a challenging proposition. There is still no consistency between each state's online CLE requirements (and some states still don't even permit it) causing some confusion for attorneys and online vendors alike. For instance, some states allow "self-study" online credit only while others also allow "participatory" online credit. And, what one state calls "self-study" another calls "participatory." Some states limit the total number of hours that can be earned online while others allow an attorney to fulfill all their CLE online (e.g. California). While most online courses are billed as "Participatory," they can still be taken as self-study credits if that's all a state allows. There are also online courses that are only self-study. Attorneys should familiarize themselves with their own state's regulations regarding online MCLE before choosing a course.

A chart comparing all of the providers discussed in this article is available by clicking here.

The cost, length and format of these cyber courses also still vary widely, but what they all have in common is the ability to be viewed seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Some of the variables include:

Cost

Some providers offer free CLE courses, but you have to be vigilant to find these-I'll point some out. Some charge as high as thousands of dollars while others charge as low as $15 per hour or lower if they are running specials (e.g. Internet For Lawyers

and Law.com).

 

Also, a vendor might have group discounts for law firms (or a flat rate for individual attorneys who plan on taking many courses from the same vendor), possibly lowering the costs even more. Most courses are from $20-$50 for one hour of credit.

Program Length

Courses can range from fourteen minutes to as long as two full days (PLI),with most lasting one hour to three hours.

Course Format

Courses range from text-based (read an article online and then answer quiz questions -- e.g. Internet For Lawyers

and Findlaw),

to courses that include discussion groups (and bulletin boards), to streaming audio courses and streaming audio/video courses. The streaming audio and video courses are most always taped from live events and are not produced specially for the online web site. Because bandwith seems to be less of a factor now, I'm seeing more multi-media courses online, more PowerPoint slides and even live webcasts. When I surveyed nine vendors in 2000, only two offered video and three others offered audio. Now, almost all are offering at least audio or video.

Conclusion

With this explosion of online CLE courses, you now have a choice: you can either stay up late worrying about how to complete your CLE hours or you can stay up late and actually complete your CLE hours -- without leaving the comfort of home. And, for the procrastinators, the time to try online courses might be now, just as most states' compliance deadlines are looming. Why try online courses right before your state compliance deadline? Because that's when you'll begin to see a proliferation of discounts and specials meant to entice novices to give online CLE a try. (See, it does pay to procrastinate!) For instance, with one month to go for the California CLE deadline, I've received emails from both Law.com

(where I was informed that the price was less than $15/credit hour for a bundle of 10 hours or more) and the Beverly Hills Bar Association

(where I was informed that "as a new West LegalEdcenter

registered user, you are immediately entitled to a free BHBA program of your choice"). For attorneys licensed in states where the compliance deadline is not at year-end, look for discounts closer to your compliance deadline. Before plunging in, however, a new online CLE user should read the site documentation carefully to be sure the course is accredited in their state. Still not ready? Then at least try the free demos most providers offer so you can get a feel for the process.

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