Obtaining the required Continuing Legal Education credits is on the mind of every Florida Bar member. Many lawyers often ask where to report their credits, what other activities qualify for CLEs, and how to find online courses? Also, what are the benefits to becoming board certified?
In this episode of The Florida Bar Podcast, Adriana Linares and Renee Thompson interview Michelle Francis, the Education, Compliance, and Accreditation Manager at The Florida Bar, who handles CLE accreditations and ensures lawyer completion of minimum requirements. Francis discusses why lawyers should look into board certification, answers CLE questions frequently asked by Florida lawyers, and offers some useful advice about alternative ways to obtain CLE credits. Hint: chapter a book, present a program, or attend university courses.
Michelle Francis is The Florida Bar’s Education, Compliance, and Accreditation Manager. In this position, she handles all the accreditations for the CLE programs for attorneys and ensures attorneys do their minimum requirements for CLE and the Basic Skills Requirement. Additionally, her department handles the Board Certification program.
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Adriana Linares: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the official Florida Bar podcast. My name is Adriana Linares and we’re really taking advantage of the fact that the Voluntary Bar Leaders Conference has been going on for the past couple days. I’m here today with Renee Thompson.
Renee Thompson: Hi, Adriana.
Adriana Linares: Hello, Renee, I appreciate you co hosting with me as you often do, I really appreciate it.
Renee Thompson: Thank you for having me.
Adriana Linares: Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself in case this is the first time they’ve heard you.
Renee Thompson: My name is Renee Thompson. I am a litigator in Ocala, Florida, at Mateer Harbert. I work with the board of governors and currently chair of the communications committee of the Bar.
Adriana Linares: And with us today, I’m really excited to have Michelle here. Hi, Michelle.
Michelle Francis: Hi!
Adriana Linares: Michelle, tell us your name.
Michelle Francis: I’m Michelle Francis, I work at the Florida Bar. I am the education compliance and accreditation manager.
Renee Thompson: Wow, that’s a long title.
Adriana Linares: Yeah!
Michelle Francis: It is, it’s a mouthful.
Adriana Linares: Well it sounds pretty important.
Michelle Francis: It is, it is. I’ve worked with the Florida Bar now 17 years in their education office. My main priority is I handle all the accreditations for all the CLE programs for attorneys. Also making sure all the attorneys do their minimum requirements for CLE and the basic skills requirement. My department also handles the Board Certification Program, which I’m down here helping promote that as well as the CLE side of things.
Adriana Linares: Before we dive into the CLE side of things – which is really the main reason we asked you to come here – tell us a little bit about the Board Certification Program, what you were here answers questions about and teaching the lawyers about.
Michelle Francis: The Board Certification Program has 24 areas – actually 25 now. We just had a new one come along, which is juvenile hall. I was down here promoting the program trying to get more attorneys to apply for board certification. I had pamphlets for them with the minimum requirements. We have two different cycles for certification. One, the following period ends in August of this year, and the other one’s in October, so trying to get as many people to have all their requirements, which involves CLEs, substantial involvement, and so forth.
Adriana Linares: And tell me what are the benefits of becoming board certified. Why do we want attorneys to do that?
Michelle Francis: Well, there’s a lot of things going on lately. You get to actually advertise yourself once you become board certified as a specialist or an expert in the area of law. So it helps benefit the general public knowing that when they hire a lawyer that’s board certified, that they know exactly every component of that area. Also two, there is other benefits to the member for having it. They do get discounts on their malpractice insurance. Their fees could be a little bit more too, but the thing is it’s a status. I’m board certified, I have this accomplishment of being an expert in the area that I practice.
Adriana Linares: That’s awesome.
Renee Thompson: It’s incredible.
Adriana Linares: And really, the reason that I asked you to pop on was because CLE is something that actually we’re talking a lot about now, because there’s some movement happening throughout the Bar. But I just asked you to come on and give our listeners the frequently asked questions. Sometimes I give CLE out, and I’m always surprised when attorneys ask me things like, “Are you going to submit that CLE for me?” And I think, well no, we’re a self-purporting stalic. Hello, don’t you know that by now?
Michelle Francis: True.
Renee Thompson: I bet she gets that a lot.
Michelle Francis: I get that. We get about a thousand phone calls a week on our phone queue.
Adriana Linares: So let’s figure out how to reduce some of those calls. What are the most frequently asked questions that you get?
Michelle Francis: The two most frequently asked questions we receive from members is how do I post my credits or report my credits and where do I get online programs. Posting credits is very simple. If you have a course number, which means the provider got it pre-approved, you go on to your member profile, log in, and hit the big button that says, “Post Credits.”
Renee Thompson: Go figure.
Michelle Francis: You enter in the course number, the date you completed it, and you hit submit, and it’s on your record. And in an instant, you can refresh the system and see the CLE credits there. Now there are a lot of programs that don’t have a course number, and that’s also pretty simple to do as well. All you have to do is email us the certificate of completion you received from the program. You can email it to [email protected], and one of our staff members will process it for you.
Adriana Linares: And you’re talking about when maybe someone has taken a CLE course out of state. Maybe they went to Texas and attended some sort of training or specialized learning there and then they were able to get a CLE certificate from Texas, but maybe it’s not one that’s specifically certified in Florida but you all will consider it.
Michelle Francis: Yes, we will. There’s a lot of attorneys that are members in different jurisdictions. There’s a lot that they do. Their CLE programs may not be a lot in Florida so they do go out of state, and those out of state providers don’t always send them courses to us to be approved. So there’s members like, “Now, what do I do? I went to this program, it was a great program, but I needed credits.” You just have to email that certificate in and to get the credits added on to their records.
Adriana Linares: And I bet a lot of attorneys don’t even realize that there’s an opportunity to do that.
Renee Thompson: That’s so convenient. I mean really, that’s just efficient and convenient.
Adriana Linares: And then you were saying to us before we started the recording that you also find a lot of attorneys don’t realize that they can get credit for doing things that don’t necessarily mean sitting in a CLE. So tell us a little bit about other ways to get that.
Michelle Francis: Well, I had a member call me, he was scrambling to get CLE credits, and I went through my spiel of there’s live programs, online programs, or have you been a presenter or have you done a publication. And he sat there kind of dumbfounded and said, “I’m so sorry, I never knew I could get CLE credit for being a presenter; and he’s been a member for 24 years.
Renee Thompson: Good to know.
Michelle Francis: Good to know, yes. And the thing is, when you present a program, if it’s an intermediate program, you get 5 credits per 50 minutes of presentation time. So it’s actually better to be the presenter because you get more CLE credits for it. You get more out of it too, being the presenter. But publications, if you write an article in a law journal, if you chapter a book, you get CLE credit for that. Also if you’re a university professor for law schools, you get credit for that. If you go get your LLM, you can get CLE credit for attending university courses.
Renee Thompson: Who knew? I did not know that. We needed to talk to you a long time ago.
Adriana Linares: Yeah, really!
Michelle Francis: And that’s the thing, when it comes to the online courses, the Bar has an amazing way of getting them. They have on demand courses, you get them 24/7. They have a large amount of them that are actually free. So those that have a tight CLE budget because of cutbacks and this or the other, you can actually do your full requirement online at no charge.
Adriana Linares: And how do I go and find those courses specifically?
Michelle Francis: Well, you go on the Florida Bar website, you go to the members, click on CLE, and go to “On Demand.” There’s a blue link that says, “Catalogue of Courses.” You click on that and then all the courses that they have available, the free ones are located, and the discounted or reduced price CLEs.
Adriana Linares: And so I assume then I can go and look either by topic. So if I’m going to take a CLE, I can either find something that interests me or you can probably sort by the free ones.
Michelle Francis: The free ones are kind of hidden a little bit, I’d say.
Adriana Linares: Oh, I’m glad you’re here, tell me the secret.
Michelle Francis: You have to go to the category of reduced price CLE programs. And that is also the survey of Florida law which is a CD that the Bar does. It’s a combination of different topics throughout the year that make onto an audio file. It’s strictly audio, there’s no materials. But that one’s in there, it’s relatively inexpensive, but it’s almost 12 hours of CLE credits per year with 4 hours of ethics most times.
Adriana Linares: And remind us, just in case somebody forgets, what the requirements are and how it cycles.
Michelle Francis: Currently the requirement is 30 general credits, including 5 credits towards ethics, professionalism, substance abuse, mental illness awareness, or biased elimination. And an attorney has a reporting period every 3 years, so start date is from when they were admitted from the Bar, and then it carries on for 3 years. New lawyers may have up to 3 years and 11 months. We do it on a staggering system, because if we didn’t, when we had those 3,000 members admitted in July, that would be a really busy year. So it is on a staggered system and some people don’t realize that we’ve actually had husbands and wives that were admitted on the same day and had two different end dates on their reporting period.
Renee Thompson: One of the things you and I were talking about at the conference this morning was how we used to post on the Florida Bar news what your CLE credit was, like currently. That’s not normally done anymore, correct?
Michelle Francis: That actually has not been done since 2008.
Adriana Linares: So you mean the number, when you receive the Florida Bar-
Renee Thompson: It used to be on the address label, and now it’s all online.
Michelle Francis: Well with it, it had your CLE end date and it would have your CLE credits. This was also back in the day when they accepted the scantron cards, and those we would send to FSU to be scanned, then they would come back and staff would have to go through and validate all of them. So it could take 6 weeks just for the credits to post to your record. Well the mailing labels are printed about a month before they’re actually put on the paper. So the accuracy in those labels was not the best, it was questionable. The only thing that was accurate was the actual reporting deadlines, so at least you had that. But we do now have some members call in thinking hours are back on there, but it’s not, it’s a postal code.
Adriana Linares: I thought of a question to ask you that I know of because sometimes I’m able to provide CLE with my profession. Explain a little bit about how you can get an ethics and a general, how one hour can be applied to both requirements, because that can be confusing. Did I get one? Did I get the other? How does that work?
Michelle Francis: What it is is that general credits will tell you how long the program is regardless of content. So if it’s a two hour program, it’s going to get two general credits. Now those two credits might have been solely on ethics. Say we’re going to put it in that category of ethics. It’s not added, it’s not subtracted, it’s just saying it’s a category.
Renee Thompson: So they overlap categories.
Michelle Francis: Correct. And it’s kind of like if you look at a bookshelf. We’ve always used the bookshelf thing here. You have 30 law books on your bookshelf. Five of them are devoted to ethical topics. You still have 30 law books. So kind of putting into that perspective, it’s a category.
Adriana Linares: And does one book ever get to be ethics and general?
Michelle Francis: Yes.
Adriana Linares: Okay. So for one book, sometimes you can have 28 books but you still have 30 credits?
Renee Thompson: No.
Michelle Francis: No. You have to have 30 books on the shelf. 5 of those books are only on ethics topics, but you still have 30 books.
Renee Thompson: One hour of CLE can overlap lots of credit areas. Make sense?
Adriana Linares: That makes so much sense.
Michelle Francis: Clears mud?
Adriana Linares: Clears mud. Any other questions you think would be great for listeners to hear and not have to call in about all the time?
Michelle Francis: Log on to your member profile. You can actually print your CLE credits from there, you can see what’s on there. And if there’s any discrepancies, of course, you’re going to have to call the Bar and we can help out with it.
Adriana Linares: So they call to ask you how many do I have, what’s my status, how many do I need?
Michelle Francis: Yes. And all they have to do is log in. When’s my reporting deadline, if you log in, it’s there. And they actually have it color coded in little bars of how far you’re down, like a little status bar going on with how many credits you have.
Adriana Linares: And I have to call every once in awhile because I guess I don’t have a good provider sometimes. And I just want to thank your staff for being so nice, because every time I call, I think, one, I’m not even a lawyer. And they’re so patient and so nice and so helpful, and I just want to say thank you.
Michelle Francis: Well, I appreciate it! We do have a very good staff, they’re always, always trying to be as helpful as anything to make sure the attorneys have what they need, providers have what they need. We always try to refer them to the website and also try to help with other departments because sometimes they don’t realize how many people work at the Florida Bar and that one person doesn’t know what the other person really is doing. So we try to help out because that may be the only time they ever call the Florida Bar.
Adriana Linares: Well that’s great, Michelle, thank you so much.
Michelle Francis: Well thank you for having me!
Adriana Linares: No, we really appreciate it. And remind the listeners what the website email address is if they want to email in, and then is there a slash for the website specifically?
Michelle Francis: Actually there’s not, because you go to TheFloridaBar.org, go to Members, click CLE, and you’ll find out everything you need to know about CLE there. If you have any questions about your CLE requirements or you need to email in your certificate of attendance, that goes to [email protected].
Renee Thompson: Perfect.
Adriana Linares: Thank you so much!
Renee Thompson: Thank you.
Michelle Francis: Thank you.
Adriana Linares: Thank you to all our listeners, I hope this information was useful and has cleared up your CLE questions. Of course, if you have any more, you can email them in to Michelle and her great team up there at the Florida Bar. That’s the end of this podcast, thank you everyone for listening!
Michelle Francis: Thank you!
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