Practice Law In Connecticut? Should You Bother Taking CLE Courses?

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If you're a practicing lawyer in the Freestone State, you may already take advantage of some of the continuing legal education (CLE) courses available in your area(s) of practice. Keeping abreast of changes in law and procedure can help ensure a greater likelihood of success in court and help you speak knowledgeably to your clients and colleagues. However, because Connecticut is a voluntary CLE state with no minimum hours requirement, you're technically permitted to pass the bar exam and then practice for decades without ever taking a refresher course on law, ethics, or procedure. Is it worthwhile to seek out CLE courses or should you focus your energy on finding clients and building your business? Read on to learn about some of the advantages of taking certain CLE courses, as well as some potential changes coming to this process.

Is attending a CLE course a worthwhile use of your time and money?

When CLE courses aren't required as a condition of keeping one's law license active, practitioners may find it more difficult to motivate themselves to take these courses -- particularly when some can require expensive travel or registration fees. However, in many cases, taking CLE courses in your specialty can be a good investment in your future.

State laws governing legal processes can change frequently, and Connecticut is no exception. For attorneys who are too stressed or overworked to spend much time reading industry publications, some important changes can slip by unnoticed. Without the benefit of the occasional CLE course outlining legal changes and updates, you could find yourself operating with outdated information. Because Connecticut's Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to be competent and diligent in their representation of clients, failing to educate yourself on updates in the law could potentially subject you to disciplinary action -- or even a malpractice lawsuit -- if the error has an irreparable effect on your client's legal rights.

Taking online CLE courses can often be the most economical and convenient option for you. These courses are often designed in the form of "video replays" or interactive sessions that can allow you to train yourself while periodically checking email or answering phone calls, rather than traveling to spend several days at a conference. You may even be able to download the content of these CLEs for future reference.

If your employer doesn't reimburse CLE-related expenses, you may be able to deduct some of these costs as employee business expenses on your federal income tax return. Education, business travel, and even work-related meals are deductible -- however, you're only permitted to deduct the amount that exceeds 2 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI). For example, if you incur $2,000 in non-deductible business expenses and have an AGI of $50,000 for that year, you'll be able to deduct $1,000. An employee with $2,000 in business expenses and an AGI of $100,000 will not be permitted to take a deduction.

What changes are being proposed to the way CLE is handled in Connecticut?

Although Connecticut is a voluntary CLE state, there are some ongoing efforts to make continuing education mandatory. Although this proposal is still pending, because Connecticut is in a small minority of states without an annual CLE requirement, it seems likely that this voluntary CLE will become a requirement of maintaining one's law license sooner rather than later.

In addition to the number of other valid reasons to attend CLE courses, the likelihood of a change in how CLE is tracked and administered in Connecticut means that getting into the habit of taking CLE courses now should help you easily adjust to any future educational requirements.

For information on continuing your legal education online, go to websites like