Managing To-Do's

How to Earn CLEs, CMEs, & Other Continuing Education Requirements Without the Last-Minute Scramble

August 19, 2020

I’m Kelly Nolan.
I'm an attorney who'd been decently organized through law school but got quickly overwhelmed as a actual attorney. After nothing else worked for me, I created this system – and kept on practicing law. Years later, I found out others were interested in learning it, so that's what I do now! Let's get this realistic system in your hands so you can start living a life that feels more calm, doable, and that lights you up.
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Do you have to deal with CLEs, CMEs, or other continuing education requirements?

While I’m no longer practicing law, I’ve kept my California license active, which means I still get to listen to those riveting CLE classes!

I know, I know… keep your jealousy in check.

As I listened to one last night and logged it into my little CLE tracker spreadsheet, I realized I’m just two credits shy of meeting my requirements for this CLE period – and they aren’t due until January

This was one of those moments where I felt super grateful to Past Me for setting up Future Me to get something done without the last-minute scramble.

Look, I’m going to be done early not because I love listening to classes about legal issues I don’t even practice anymore.

And I promise you, left to my own devices, I’d be binge-watching CLE classes Netflix-style in January.

Instead, I just created a game plan to get it done over time – and voila!

You can, too.

Here’re my tips for making CLE/CME/CE-compliance as painless as possible:

Heads up: This is a fair bit of front-end work, but, as with almost everything I teach, it’ll serve you well for years to come and help save you from a lot of scramble down the road.

Step 1: Get clear on your requirements & deadline

This sounds obvious, but it can be a little trickier than it should be.

Figure out how many credits, including any special sub-category credits, you need.

Also, figure out when your credit reporting is due. This usually involves logging into your state bar profile to see when your specific reporting deadline in.

For example, in California, you need 25 credits in three years, and four of those credits must be classified as “Ethics,” one as “Elimination of Bias,” and one as “Competence Issues.”

Remember: Requirements are typically different in every state. If you’re licensed in multiple states, you need to do this for each state.

While you’re at this step, make sure to calendar the deadline and block time a couple of days before to gather and submit the info.

Step 2: Start a folder & tracking spreadsheet

Create a folder for your CLE/CME/CE compliance. Include a sub-folder for certificates you earn.

In addition, create a spreadsheet called, e.g., “CLE Tracking,” to track these puppies. It might sound crazy, but this is something you complete over a couple years, so memorializing what you’ve done comes in clutch when it comes to reporting time.

I including the following columns:

  • Date (that I completed the class);

  • Title (of the class);

  • A column per state I’m licensed in (for me, CA, MN and MA) – Under these headings, I enter “1” if the class gives me credit in the relevant state. This lets me add up the numbers in each column so I know how many credits I have in each state (as all states have their own requirements! yay!);

  • A column to note whether the class qualifies for a special credit in each state; and

  • For MN, you need a course number for each class, so I have a special column for that info.

I then have a “Total” row so I can add up the number of credits per state. Here’s what mine currently looks like:

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 11.48.04 AM.png

Underneath that table, I also list out the state requirements I need to keep in mind. I then have the numbers from the “Total” row fill into a column next to the requirements so I can subtract them from the requirements column to see what I have left. Here’s what that part looks like now:

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 11.46.20 AM.png

(Complete side note, but aren’t MN’s CLE requirements wild?! I’m inactive there so I fortunately don’t have to meet those requirements at this time. If I want to activate my MN license down the road though, I need to show what credits I’ve completed, so I just keep track of them while I’m at it.)

After you take a class, log it and watch yourself get closer to the finish line!

Step 4: Come up with your game plan

First, figure out how you’ll get the majority of your credits. You can always add the random event, but figure out how you’ll get most of your credits now.

If your firm offers CLE credits frequently, take advantage of it.

That said, even if your firm offers them, I highly recommend online, on-demand services so that you can take the class when it works for YOU (so long as your state allows it).

For example, last year I purchased a CA CLE bundle on AttorneyCredits.com, which allows me to watch a CLE course at 8pm while I clean up the house and fold laundry.

Once you’ve figured out how you’ll get a majority of your credits, schedule time in your calendar when you’ll knock out the classes.

You need to do this because you will NOT remember or want to stay on top of this over the course of the, e.g., three years. You’ve got to help Future You know when to take the classes to avoid a last-minute scramble.

This is an area where I recommend at least doubling the number of hours you’ll need.

For example, if you need 25 hours of credit over three years, I recommend scheduling time once every other week to take a class.

This is obviously WAY more time than you’ll need, but you know right now that realistically you’ll end up deleting half of those calendar entries to accommodate things that come up that are more important or urgent. Since we don’t know what those things are right now and so we can’t schedule around them, we’re just building in that flexibility now.

By over-scheduling how often you need to take a class, you’ll make sure you hit the deadline. Be realistic, and build in that wiggle room.

Also, bonus tip: in the repeating calendar entry, list the link to the website where you’ll take the class (that or bookmark it – or do both!).

Step 5: Play out your game plan

Now that you’ve done all this front end work, you get to chip away at earning those credits without the last-minute scramble! Pretty nice, right?

And that’s it!

It’s a fair bit of front-end work, but it’ll serve you well for years to come and help save you a lot of scramble down the road.

If you have any great continuing education websites or tips, share below!

P.S. You know what else can be kind of a drag on the work front? Email. If you’d like my best strategies for managing your email with less stress and spending less time in your inbox, check out my mini-course here.

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