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Supreme Court reduces the number of mandatory CLE hours

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Supreme CourtFlorida Bar members will begin feeling the impact of a recent Supreme Court order that revises continuing legal education requirements beginning in January, according to Bar staff.

“The important thing for lawyers to know is the effective date of the order is January 8, 2024,” said Florida Bar Programs Division Director Terry Hill. “There will be lots of communication, lots of reminders.”

Responding to a Bar special committee’s recommendations for enhancing legal professionalism, justices in a July 6 order adopted a new Code for Resolving Professionalism Referrals and amended the Professionalism Expectations. A third component of the order amends Bar Rule 6-10.3 (Minimum Continuing Legal Education Standards).

Justices agreed with the special committee’s recommendations regarding CLE, but with modifications.

On its own motion, the court reduced the hours a lawyer must earn every three-year reporting cycle, from 33 to 30. Justices noted that the reduction restores the initial requirement when the Supreme Court first imposed mandatory CLE in 1987 and aligns lawyers with a continuing education requirement for judges.

“So, the big news for lawyers is three hours less of mandatory CLE,” Hill said.

But the reduction doesn’t take effect until after the amendments take effect on January 8, 2024, Hill said.

“What lawyers need to know is if they are in a CLE reporting cycle that ends prior to that effective date, then they are falling under the current requirement of needing 33 hours of the CLE in the rule that exists today,” he said.

The order also adds a new requirement that Bar members complete a free “two-hour legal professionalism course produced by The Florida Bar and approved by this Court,” something the special committee recommended. But the order then points to a portion of the existing CLE rule that says “[a]t least 5 of the 33 credit hours be in approved legal ethics, professionalism, bias elimination, substance abuse, or mental health and wellness programs.”

“Today, the court amends the rule by removing ‘bias elimination’ from the list,” the order states. “The Court believes that non-discrimination principles and civility can and should be addressed in the context of legal ethics and professionalism.”

Courses in ‘bias elimination’ that meet The Florida Bar’s general course approval requirements “will continue to count toward the fulfillment of Bar members’ overall 30-hour CLE requirement; but such courses will no longer count toward fulfillment of the five-hour sub-requirement specified in the rule,” the order states.

The new Code for Resolving Professionalism Referrals and the amendments to the Professionalism Expectations take effect immediately. Justices delayed the effective date of the rule amendment and stressed that any bias elimination courses taken before January 8, 2024, “will count toward a member’s fulfillment of the five-hour sub-requirement,” for the applicable reporting cycle.

“The order is not retroactive,” Hill said. “People who have already taken those and have them sitting in their CLE counter, are not going to have them removed.”

The order also grants a grace period. For any Bar member who has less than three months remaining in a reporting cycle when the amendments take effect, “the requirement to take the two-hour, Bar-produced course on professionalism will not apply until the member’s subsequent reporting cycle.”

That means, “lawyers who have a CLE reporting cycle that ends January 31, February 28, or March 31, will not have to have that Bar-produced course in the current cycle,” Hill said.

The rest should mark April 30 on their calendar, Hill said.

“Beginning April 30th, all Bar members with CLE reporting cycles of April 30th and beyond will have to take the new two-hour course,” he said.

Hill said the Bar’s Center for Professionalism expects to have a course developed before the end of the year.

The Bar is planning an aggressive member awareness campaign, Hill said.

“We certainly don’t want lawyers to find themselves CLE- delinquent, and not eligible to practice law because they didn’t comply with the new two-hour required professionalism program,” he said.

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