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Pennsylvania lawyers seeking to tally continuing legal education credits will soon be able to do so from the comfort of their own desk. Beginning Jan. 1, accredited CLE programs will be available online. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a distance-learning pilot project that will allow lawyers to meet some of their CLE requirements over the Internet. The program is scheduled to start early next year. After a two-year test period, the system will be evaluated by the supreme court, and, according to Ruth E. Ganister, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board, it will be tweaked as the justices deem necessary, before the final product is implemented. Ganister said strict stipulations had been placed on the program to ensure that participants fulfill Pennsylvania CLE requirements while taking Internet-based classes. The restrictions include the following: � Limiting the number of distance-learning credits that a lawyer can obtain in a year to three. Pennsylvania requires lawyers to obtain 12 credits a year. � Requiring course providers to have courses pre-approved by the state CLE board. � Each attendee must complete an evaluation of the course to receive credit. � Courses must provide mechanisms to ensure interactivity and to monitor course participation. The course provider must be able to certify a lawyer’s attendance. � Course providers must agree to make a monthly report to the state CLE board on course attendance in addition to course evaluations. “The provider will have to be approved and will have to show some level of interactivity between the student and the provider,” Ganister said. “We don’t want to have a program where you can just click it on and then leave the room to watch television.” Lawyers who take online CLE courses will be required to fill out a course evaluation before hours will be credited. “This will let us see feedback not only on the individual programs, but also on the whole concept of Internet-based learning,” Ganister said. “We did not want the purpose of CLEs, which is that every Pennsylvania lawyer should do 12 hours each year, to be thwarted by a system that didn’t require adequate participation.” Providers will also be required to answer participants’ questions about the course within a designated time by e-mail or have an 800 number attorneys can call during the course to have their questions answered immediately. Pennsylvania will be the 28th state of the 39 states with mandatory CLE to allow attorneys to acquire Internet-based CLE credits. The CLE board began examining the possibility of offering courses online more than two years ago. Late last year, the board presented a proposal to the supreme court. The original proposal asked the court to approve of two online CLE credits per lawyer per year, but the justices extended the limit to three. Allowing lawyers to attend CLE programs from their own homes or offices could also help firms cut costs, Ganister speculated. “Especially for rural attorneys … people have to drive to where they are going to take the course,” Ganister said. “That could mean having to pay for a hotel overnight. So now, at least for the three hours, overhead costs will be virtually eliminated.” Ganister said that offering Internet CLE courses is just a response to the direction that acquiring legal information is going. “You don’t do research the way you used to,” she said. “You go to any major university, and they are doing distance-learning programs. … Our feeling was that younger lawyers in particular are used to it. All their knowledge on how you do legal research is based on the Internet, so it is almost a disservice not to have an Internet-based CLE.” Information on how to sign up for Internet CLE courses will be made available once provider courses have been approved.

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