Top 10 Reasons for CLE Accreditation Denial

You’ve decided to put on a webinar, offer an online course or plan a national conference. Lawyers are already asking how many continuing legal education (CLE) credits they’ll earn and now you’re about to dive into the CLE accreditation morass.

But is your program even eligible for accreditation? This checklist of sorts has evolved from a Top-5 to a Top-10 after conducting an informal survey of my CLE colleagues on the MCLE Facebook Page and the old Listserv and receiving over 20 meaningful responses.

1. Inadequate or incomplete written materials

This garnered the most survey responses. Almost all states require substantial written materials. PowerPoint outlines are not acceptable. A description of the materials and/or table of contents must be submitted with each application. A few states require a full set of materials. New York is especially onerous requiring that a full set be submitted with the application a full 60 days in advance!

2. Incomplete required attachments

Applications must be accompanied with a detailed timed agenda, table of contents and a biography of each speaker. Some require a financial aid policy. The timed agenda is usually the most problematic with applicants failing to provide enough detail.

3. Ethics and Professionalism credits

Another popular survey response. All states require attorneys to complete ethics credits. The portions of the presentation for which you’re requesting ethics credits must be highlighted in the timed agenda with language to back it up. In many states ethics credits are only approved if it directly correlates to that state’s ethics rule. Putting the term “ethics” in the course title or specific session of a conference doesn’t hurt.

4. Program not targeted to attorneys

Course must be designed for attorneys. So a presentation of a legal topic taught to non-attorneys will not be accredited. However, programs that cross academic lines but do not deal directly with the practice of law, like accounting and medicine, may be considered for approval if geared to attorneys.

5. Legal topics that are not substantive or procedural law

As one survey participant noted, “just because a person is a lawyer does not make what they say in front of a group ‘continuing legal education'”. A training course on the use of office technology for attorneys may not be approved, but another on how to create pleading templates or tables of authorities in word processing products may be eligible for CLE credit.

6. Activities used to sell the presenter’s products or services

Vendors offering services to attorneys and law firms in practice management, legal research, etc., often host webinars or give presentations in-house. These programs can be accredited but there must be no promotion or sale of goods or services. So if you’re a SaaS practice management or e-discovery vendor, a presentation on the ethics of cloud computing – perhaps include privacy issues and client confidentiality may be accredited.

7. Marketing, advertising or Rainmaking programs

These courses will almost always get denied. Most states are very specific about not granting CLE credits that deal with lawyer marketing, advertising and client development. CLE is obviously not in lock-step with changes in the legal profession.

New York clearly spells it out: “programs designed to teach attorneys marketing, networking and/or business development skills… do not qualify for CLE credit.”

The one exception is if the program has an ethical component. Like the ethics rules governing lawyer advertising.

8. Restricted audience

Some states will accredit a law firm or in-house course only if it’s open to outside attorneys and have at least one outside faculty.

9. Activities dealing with substance abuse, mental illness, depression and diversity

This really is state specific with some state requiring that attorneys complete a set number of credits in these specific areas while others pointedly do not permit accreditation of such courses. Check your state CLE rules before applying.

10. Online courses with inadequate verification procedures

Getting accreditation for live, in-person events is troublesome enough, but doing so for online courses is a whole other level of agita. Three items to be aware of are embedded codes, verification forms and interactive requirements which vary by state and are rather precise in some.

To top if off, CLE regulators are not always consistent with their decisions. I’ve seen a conference get approved for 3 credits in one state and 18 in another. On the plus side they are very generous with their time and advice so a quick call to your CLE regulator if you’re unsure is encouraged.

Tim Baran
Tim Baran is Program Manager at Pro Bono Net. He can be found on Twitter @tim_baran.