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Progress is often made in small steps — at least that seems to be the theory behind the Hartford County, Conn., Bar Association’s new incentive program for members who earn a minimum of 12 credit hours of continuing legal education a year. Unlike a 1995 proposal to make CLE mandatory in Connecticut that met a quick demise, the HBCA program hopes to raise the bar’s professionalism and competence through less fettered means, said Kenneth L. Shluger, co-chairman of the county bar’s CLE committee. Think of it as positive reinforcement with a sprinkle of guilt. By encouraging lawyers to attend CLE courses by bestowing upon them public recognition and certificates that they can hang on their office wall, powers that be outside the bar hopefully will be less inclined to get involved in the ongoing debate over mandatory CLE, Shluger said. “We would like to [proactively] demonstrate to legislative leaders that the lawyers are taking care of this themselves,” he said. Bar officials say there is no sign that state lawmakers are looking into the issue. A change to mandatory CLE would require the approval of the state’s Superior Court judges. PUBLIC RECOGNITION HCBA members have until Aug. 31 to earn the 12 credits needed to gain the association’s certification this year. Though an advertisement in The Hartford Courant listing the lawyers who voluntarily meet the CLE goals is too cost prohibitive for the organization, Shluger said his committee is looking to get such attorneys recognition in other publications. Attorneys compiling 12 or more CLE credit hours — one of which must be spent attending a course on legal ethics — between Sept. 1 and Aug. 31 each year also will receive framed certificates and be put on a list that the HCBA will make available to the public upon request. So far, there has been no noticeable increase — or decrease, for that matter — in attendance at the 20 or so CLE seminars conducted by the county bar association each year, according to Shluger. But he notes that such courses generally are fairly popular already. The HCBA has 2,200 members. Last year, its CLE seminars attracted nearly 4,000 attendees, he said. “I don’t know that people would take extra courses just to say that they are certified,” Shluger conceded. Rather, the incentive program may serve more as a tool to recognize lawyers who already keep up with their professional development responsibilities on their own. A MATTER OF COMMON SENSE “I really think they are going in the right direction,” Westport attorney Frederic S. Ury said of the incentive program. Chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association’s CLE committee, Ury said his panel is solidly in favor of revisiting the idea. In 1995, then Supreme Court Chief Justice Ellen A. Peters endorsed a plan to require all attorneys to complete an average of 15 hours of CLE a year. The measure, however, flopped when presented later that year at the Superior Court judges’ annual meeting. The judges, who have the final say in the matter, voted to table the proposal indefinitely, partially out of concern over time and cost burdens it would impose on members of the state bar, especially solos and small-firm practitioners. Ury, of Ury & Moskow, downplayed the extra strain mandatory CLE would cause lawyers. “There’s a million things you can do [to earn CLE credits] that people are doing now anyway,” he said, listing out-of-state seminars, writing articles on legal topics, and even watching Court TV as ways in which such responsibilities could be fulfilled. “I would love to explore it further, but I’m not sure that [mandatory CLE is] on [CBA President] Barbara Collins’ agenda or [CBA Executive Director] Tim Hazen’s agenda,” Ury admitted. Mandatory CLE “isn’t part of my agenda this year,” said Collins, a Hartford solo. Rather, Collins said she plans to make it easier for lawyers to voluntarily attend CLE seminars. “It’s almost de facto mandatory,” Collins said of CLE, “because all the malpractice [insurance] carriers are wanting to know how much [continuing legal education courses] you’ve taken.” For Ury, it’s a matter of common sense. Even to instruct an indoor bicycling class at a Norwalk gym, Ury said he has to take 14 hours of training every two years.

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