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Computer Counselor - June 2000

Lawyers Have a Variety of Options for Online MCLE Courses

Even participatory credit is available for those who would rather study entirely online

By Carole Levitt

Carole Levitt is president of Internet For Lawyers, a legal, business, and investigative training company. She can be reached at 

Lawyers in California know that SB 144 reduced the number of required MCLE hours from 36 to 25 and ended the law practice management requirement. It is not as widely known that, in recognition of the accessibility of the Internet, the legislature made it clear that attorneys can satisfy the full self-study portion (12.5 hours) of their MCLE requirement by taking courses online. Furthermore, to ease the financial burden of MCLE, the legislature has mandated that the State Bar develop low-cost ($15 per hour or less) online programs. Finally, the State Bar's proposed online education rules go even further to permit attorneys to satisfy the participatory portion (12.5 hours) of their MCLE requirement online too. If implemented, this would allow an attorney to fulfill all 25 hours of MCLE through online education. California lawyers need to know what is available online.

While the cost, length, and format of online courses vary widely, what they all have in common is that lawyers can view them seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without needing to travel anywhere. For some formats, certain programs need to be downloaded and added to a user's Web browser. Two examples are Real Player for audio- and video-based courses and Adobe Acrobat for some text-based courses. Most of the online providers include easy-to-follow instructions on how to download these programs.

To be eligible for participatory credit, the online educational activity must be verified by the provider. The State Bar's proposed amendments, however, do not explain how provider verification will occur. Consequently, some national providers have declined to label their courses as either participatory or self-study, and instead refer attorneys to their respective state bar rules.

Who Offers What

The Los Angeles County Bar Association (www.lacba.org) has gone interactive by partnering with Taecan, a national MCLE online provider. The Association's live MCLE seminars will be placed online at Taecan's Web site, grouping an online audio course with written materials and an interactive component consisting of discussion groups and the ability to send e-mail messages to the presenters. Taecan has instituted provider verification by means of automatic tracking of all online credit hours. Participatory credit is awarded at $25 per credit hour.

LACBA's Web site, in turn, currently contains the online version of the MCLE article and test found monthly in Los Angeles Lawyer. It costs $15 for members and $20 for nonmembers to submit answers to a one-hour self-study test. Approximately 30 articles (found by clicking on "MCLE Tests" in the column on the left) offer a range of subject-area choices.

Emplawyernet CLE Casino (www.emplawyernet.com/cle/
) is a national company with California accreditation that provides a discount to members of LACBA. The company offers a text-based online course. On Emplawyernet, self-study credit can be earned without taking a quiz. The site's articles are generally well tailored to the required MCLE categories, although an article on substance abuse is lacking. Courses range from "How to Effectively Select a Private Investigator" (law practice management credit) to "Age and Sex Discrimination: The 40+ Year Old's Latest Weapon" (gender bias credit). Members pay $16.95 per hour class, nonmembers $19.95. Membership runs $9.95 per month unless the attorney is a member of the ABA or LACBA, in which case membership costs $6.95 per month.

The American Bar Association (www.abanet.org/cle/clenow/
) offers one hour of free online MCLE in exchange for an evaluation of its CLE Now audio pilot program. General credit courses include "Practical Tips for Employment Litigators" and "Stopping Violence against Women: Using New Federal Laws."

The San Fernando Valley Bar Association (www.sfvba.org/free_
) offers free online courses to members only (nonmembers pay $25 by credit card). The format is the same as LACBA's current text-based article-and-test format. At this time, however, the site offers only two courses: one on bankruptcy and another on intellectual property.

CLE Online.com (www.cleonline.com/), which originates from Texas, and Legalseminars.com (www.legalseminars.com/), Law.com's online seminar division, both provide text-based courses and online seminar discussions. Some of CLE Online's 28 courses have optional audio or video components. Additionally, Legal Seminars features links to relevant Internet resources.

Both sites are accredited in many states, including California. Although CLE Online only has one course specifically written for California attorneys, more are on the way. Many of CLE Online's courses are general enough to interest California attorneys. Legal Seminars has developed 250 courses since 1995, with 22 courses currently online. CLE Online posts its courses for one month and Legal Seminars for two weeks, but both allow attorneys to join in at any time and accumulate time at their own pace. Most CLE Online and Legal Seminars courses are three hours long at a cost of $59 for CLE Online and $79 to $99 for Legal Seminars. CLE Online has a few $25 one-hour courses. Legal Seminars also offers a $229 subscription that provides access to all online programs for a year.

The Rutter Group (www.rutteronline.com/) and the Continuing Education of the Bar (www.ceb.ucop.edu/), both located in California, have developed online courses. Rutter's online CLE features streaming audio and video, and CEB uses streaming audio only. To view streaming video, put the video in a small frame to keep the image clear. Those connecting at higher speeds can enlarge the image somewhat. Rutter and CEB include written materials, and Rutter provides links to related Web sites. Both providers also track the amount of time a user spends online and offer participatory credit. To test the streaming audio and video format, Rutter offers a free one-hour ethics course. A demo course should also be available at CEB in the near future. Rutter's 46 streaming audio and video courses range from one hour to six hours, with most clocking in at three hours at a cost of $90 to $360. Rutter offers an unlimited use pass at $395 and courses in special categories (such as legal ethics) in addition to 18 general subject courses.

CEB provides 27 online audio courses, with seven courses in the required categories (substance abuse is missing) and the remainder in the general credit category focusing on business, civil litigation, employment, estate planning, and real property. The programs can be listened to in increments of 15 minutes. To use CEB Online, an account must be established in advance, but it costs nothing to establish the account. CEB's regular fee is $25 per hour, and it has a pass similar to Rutter's, with prices ranging from $495 per attorney to a transferable passport for $1,695.

Practising Law Institute (www.pli.edu/) has developed 24 California accredited Web programs similar to Rutter's participatory online course format. PLI declines to label its programs as participatory, however, referring attorneys to their respective state rules. Most course topics focus on intellectual property, litigation, securities, corporate, estate planning, banking, or civil rights law. One of PLI's newer courses is the 19th Annual Institute on Computer Law, a 12-hour class that costs $750. Users may purchase parts of these longer programs for $129. Among online MCLE providers, PLI offers what is probably the largest selection of ethics courses.

The online programs of Legal Span (www.legalspan.com/cal-lawyer/broadcasts.asp) are offered in a "virtual seminar room" that allows users to see the speaker in 3-D, listen to audio, and read accompanying handouts. During live seminars, participants can send questions to the speaker's teleprompter. This is made possible by downloading LegalSpan's proprietary software, free demos of which are available. Legal Span has eight California participatory course selections. Some of its courses are as short as the 23-minute, $15 course titled "Navigating with the Palm Pilot."

Find Law (www.findlaw.com/07Cle/Cle/) asks attorneys to read a brief overview of various Web sites and then (for one hour of California participatory credit at $20) sends the attorney to the Web site to answer 10 questions about each site. The focus of a Find Law course is to show the most useful legal Web sites, from healthcare, cyberspace, and environmental law to California and federal law. It is easier to link directly from the quiz page to the Web sites instead of going back to the Find Law menu (as the quiz suggests). For those who still must comply under the old rules (which required law practice management credit), six of Find Law's seven courses are for law practice management credit.

Attorneys who have fallen behind on their MCLE can stay awake late at night worrying about how to complete their hours by January 31, 2001, or they can log on to the Internet and start gaining online MCLE credits now without leaving home. Even those who are more up-to-date on their hours may want to give an online course a try. They will save time and might even have fun.

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