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LEGAL CENTS: Finding ways to earn CLE on the cheap

Jane Pribek is a former family law attorney and Wisconsin Law Journal’s editor-at-large. She can be reached at [email protected]

I’m going to pass on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s “Ultimate Pass” for continuing legal education.

Currently, for one year of unlimited attendance at live or access to webcast CLE sponsored by the State Bar, members must pay $1,099 for a “gold” pass. A “silver” pass also is available for $899, which offers the same unlimited access for all formats but multi-day conferences are 50 percent off. That translates to 50 percent off institute tuition, as well as unlimited access to products including live CLE, webcasts, webcast replays and online on-demand titles.

When the Ultimate Pass first was introduced in 2008, it was just $595 for unlimited CLE.

Two years ago, when I decided to reactivate my Wisconsin law license, I purchased an Ultimate Pass for $799. As a nonresident lawyer, I wanted credits that I was fairly certain would be approved or already had been approved by the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners.

And I certainly appreciated the convenience of webcasts. I racked up 60 hours over a few months’ time, taking in some high-quality programming. It was a tremendous bargain.

But now that it’s another reporting year for me, rather than pay the new price, I’m looking for other options. Simply put, I can’t afford the Ultimate Pass; I work a full-time, public-interest job in government.

I suspect there are other lawyers who find the new price burdensome, too. I dedicate this column to them.

As a mandatory association, we can’t boycott the State Bar entirely, nor should we. But we can show our displeasure over the Ultimate Pass by boycotting its CLE; and save money at the same time.

For starters, take advantage of the free or low-cost CLE at Marquette University Law School.

Milwaukee sole practitioner Nick Zales said his alma mater offers “amazing deals” on its CLE. It’s conveniently located for anyone working downtown and is easily accessible from the freeway for those who don’t. Parking is free; lunch is occasionally included; and the new law school building is “fantastic,” Zales said.

Marquette’s Associate Dean for External Relations Christine Wilczynski-Vogel explained that Dean Joseph Kearney has emphasized low- or no-cost CLE as a key public service initiative. Some of the MULS CLE offerings include:

  • Occasional six-credit programs, usually priced at $40.
  • Lectures series that offer free, one-credit programs.
  • Offsite programs, in Green Bay and Madison, offering one or 1.5 credits and costing $12, with lunch.

And yet another option is available via webcast. The Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic/Legal Action of Wisconsin “Brown Bag” one-credit programs are free. They typically run monthly during the academic year.

In addition, just a block or so away, the Milwaukee Legal Resource Center, a branch of the Wisconsin State Law Library, offers free, live CLE programs at the Central Milwaukee Public Library. Eleven different sessions are held annually, for one or two credits, all with a focus on legal research.

Reference librarian Lynne Gehrke said four of the sessions are hosted by Westlaw, which usually offers two different classes at each of their sessions. As an aside, the library offers free access to Westlaw. Bring a thumb drive to save your research.

Between those two providers, it’s entirely feasible that an attorney in Milwaukee can earn all of the annual 15 credits for free, or very little money, while outstate lawyers can earn close to half their required credits gratis.

Another option in Milwaukee is the previously mentioned Legal Action of Wisconsin, and Judicare in northern Wisconsin. The legal service providers occasionally offer free CLE in exchange for a commitment to perform pro bono service or take cases at a reduced hourly rate.

Along these lines, the Dane County Bar recently offered a half-day Case Mediation Program Training for free to members who’ve signed up for that program, or $50 for nonparticipants. While participants are expected to use their training for volunteer mediation, the time requirement is minimal and the next case needing low-cost mediation might just be yours. It’s a karma thing.

Specialty bars also occasionally offer free or low-cost programming. For example, the Wisconsin Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel occasionally partners with Foley & Lardner for free two-credit programs for its members. I noticed that Foley’s programs include cocktails afterward. Perhaps the only thing better than free CLE is a free happy hour. Am I right?

In sum, especially for Milwaukeeans, there are ways to avoid high-priced CLE.

And let your local representative to the State Bar Board of Governors know if you’re unhappy with its CLE pricing.


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