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Two major reports landed in California Bar leaders’ laps last Thursday — one recommending four ways to crack down on nonlawyers practicing law and another advising more hours and no exemptions for mandatory continuing legal education. While both studies are likely to stir debate, the MCLE report — called for in the wake of then-California Gov. Pete Wilson’s 1998 fee bill veto — will almost undoubtedly get the most attention. “As MCLE is required of all active members of the State Bar,” the report noted, “few attorneys are indifferent toward it.” Indeed, several lawyers over the years have called for MCLE’s demise. In a 1999 survey by the California Bar Journal, the State Bar-owned newspaper, 67 percent of respondents said legal education should not be mandatory. That’s why members of the Bar’s MCLE Evaluation Commission were somewhat surprised that their telephone poll revealed that 51 percent of respondents found California’s MCLE program good or excellent, 77 percent rated the programs’ presenters at the same high level and only 8 percent felt no MCLE should be required. “It would be a big step backward, and would undermine public confidence in the profession and lower its standards, were we to abandon California’s MCLE program,” the report stated. “Indeed,” it noted, “we believe it serves no useful purpose to keep looking at whether CLE should continue to be [in existence], and it is time to put that issue behind us.” The 22-page report was presented by MCLE Evaluation Commission chairman and former State Bar president David Heilbron during a joint meeting of the Board of Governors’ committees on member relations and communications and on regulation and discipline. The report also recommended that lawyers be required to take 30 hours of CLE every three years — beginning on Feb. 1, 2005 — rather than the 25 the California Supreme Court ordered a few years back. In addition, it advised strongly that no one be exempted from the CLE mandate. The reason for the hourly increase was because the commission was appalled to discover that California’s CLE requirement is the smallest in the nation. As for the exemptions — now available to state officials, law school professors, and state and federal employees — the commission felt it was just plain fair to make everyone comply. “The commission finds no principled reason to exempt any group from it,” the report noted, “and exempting some groups from it makes those not exempted resentful. Therefore, the exemptions are counterproductive.” Other suggestions in the report are to continue mandating four hours of legal ethics education, retain one hour of education on bias in the profession and eliminate substance abuse education. “Most lawyers believe the [substance abuse] course does not pertain to them and does not help those to whom it does,” the report stated. “We know of no evidence suggesting they are wrong.” The separate 17-page report on the unauthorized practice of law noted that while such acts are becoming increasingly common throughout practice areas, the area of immigration law is particularly hard hit. “Immigration consultants have become the most controversial category of nonlawyer service provider,” the report noted, “due to allegations that persons who are, or are portraying themselves as, immigration consultants have defrauded or misled many unsuspecting immigrants, who are reluctant to seek redress because of deportation fears.” The report, presented by David Long, the Bar’s special assistant for administration of justice, offered four options. They are: to take no action; actively investigate and prosecute unauthorized practitioners; enact a 10-point plan — adopted but not implemented by the Bar in 1996 — that calls for litigation in “carefully selected, targeted cases of greatest impact;” or collaborate with a number of different agencies, including the state’s Judicial Council, as part of a balanced approach to ensuring the public better access to the legal system. All four options, as well as the MCLE report, will be reviewed by the full Board of Governors at the group’s June meeting. Also on Thursday, the Board’s Committee on Regulation & Discipline sidestepped a thorny internal dispute over a request by the State Bar Court’s judges that they be given the authority to dismiss discipline cases on their own motion. Board governors, at the suggestion of executive director and former chief trial counsel Judy Johnson, asked that the California Supreme Court be consulted first. State Bar prosecutors oppose the judges’ bid for more power, saying it would diminish the prosecutorial discretion that resides solely with the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel under current State Bar rules.

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