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State Bar governors have mollified California lawyers by agreeing not to increase the required hours of legal education, but they’ve also irritated many by retaining mandatory participation in a couple of unpopular courses. On Friday, the State Bar Board of Governors voted 9-6 not to increase legal education requirements above the current maximum of 25 hours every three years. But they decided 13-1 to continue requiring lawyers to take one hour each in courses concerning substance abuse and elimination of bias in the profession. The governors also agreed to retain rules exempting certain groups of lawyers — such as law professors and legislators — from having to take mandatory continuing legal education. The Friday voting went completely counter to recommendations contained in a hefty report prepared by the specially appointed MCLE review commission. The state’s lawyers had made it clear in a recent survey that they strongly opposed more education hours and had also strongly expressed their dislike of the two specialty courses. Yet Bar governors felt Friday that the popularity of the courses wasn’t as important as the potential to help someone with substance abuse problems or to combat discrimination within the profession. “If [they] help one or two people, then it’s doing the right thing,” said Bar governor Peter Nitschke, the board’s representative from the California Young Lawyers Association. “And there are people being helped by these programs.” Many of the board members had come to the meeting prepared to make bias and substance abuse courses voluntary studies within the broader course of legal ethics, but two speakers, Ellen Pansky and Lawrence Kuhlman, changed many minds. Pansky, chairwoman of the Bar’s committee on women in the law, said that studies over the years still find pernicious ethnic, gender and disability discrimination within the profession. For example, she said, “there is a continuing problem with the lack of advancement for women in the profession.” Kuhlman, vice president of The Other Bar, a nonprofit organization that helps lawyers and judges in recovery, said education on drug and alcohol abuse helps get people into treatment. “The message they can get out of an MCLE program is that there is hope,” he said. But he added that the courses cannot be voluntary. “The people who are going to need this kind of MCLE are not going to attend if it’s not mandatory.” One adamant opponent of continuing to make the two courses mandatory was State Bar President Palmer Madden, who said it would contradict the wishes of the state’s lawyers. “They think they are a waste of time. They think they are personally offensive,” he said. And while the courses might help one or two members, “you’re inflicting on other members what they consider a bur under the saddle,” Madden said. But Bar governor Scott Wylie and State Bar President-elect Karen Nobumoto pointed out that keeping the courses amounted to only a two-hour requirement every three years. “If we can’t take the heat about that,” Nobumoto said, “we don’t belong in this job.” Bar governor James Otto said that after taking a substance abuse course a few years back, he recognized that an associate in his law firm had a substance abuse problem, and he “made that associate go to a doctor to be rehabilitated. That might not have happened [if he had not attended the MCLE course].”

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