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Every few years a proposal for mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) triggers a heated debate in Illinois, home to 77,000 lawyers. This is one of those years. While practitioners of several licensed professions, from accountants to beauticians, are subject to continuing education in Illinois, lawyers are not among them, making it one of only 10 states that do not require CLE. The state’s two largest bar groups — the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association — are sponsors of Proposal 02-06, which would start mandatory continuing legal education. In January, the proposal was debated before the Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee, which will file a recommendation to the high court later this year. A NEW TWIST Despite a history of failed efforts — proposals for MCLE have been introduced three times since 1987 — this time advocates may have a wild card in the accession of a new state supreme court. Five of the seven current justices, including Chief Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow, were elected after the last defeat of MCLE in 1998. Opponents lost an ally in the departure of former Chief Justice Moses W. Harrison, who had been outspoken against MCLE. If implemented, Proposal 02-06 would require an attorney to complete 20 hours of CLE in the first two years, 24 hours in the following two years and 30 hours every two years thereafter. Additionally, a newly licensed lawyer in Illinois would be required to pass a 15-hour basic-skills class. The program would require each lawyer to pay a $5 startup fee and then be self-funded by course providers and late penalties. It would be supervised by a nine-member board appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court. Opponents say it’s a bad idea for a number of reasons. Jack Joseph, of counsel to Hedlund & Hanley of Chicago, called MCLE a “cash cow” and charged that bar associations, as the largest CLE providers, have a financial incentive. Most lawyers do not want MCLE, Joseph asserted, but providers are pushing it. The District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction to hold a referendum on the subject, he says, and MCLE was defeated by a 6-1 margin. Terry Murphy, executive director of the Chicago Bar Association, said the accusation is ridiculous. “CLE is barely a break-even proposition,” he said. Costs typically range from $45 to $65 for a three-hour course, many of which provide text materials for attendees. There are a number of ways an attorney can earn hours without cost, said Murphy. Steven F. Pflaum, a partner at Chicago’s McDermott, Will & Emery and general counsel of the Chicago Bar, said the proposal, if implemented, would make Illinois the most flexible of all MCLE states. It would require minimal time and record keeping for a lawyer to comply. The Chicago Bar is also working to offer more CLE courses through Webcasts, which offer more convenience to lawyers. Another voice of opposition at the hearing came from Eric Friedman, a patent lawyer who practices with his wife at Chicago’s Friedman & Friedman. Friedman trusts that the bars’ intentions are good, but says MCLE is unnecessary. Lawyers are self-educating and there is no evidence that states with MCLE have better lawyers or less malpractice, Friedman asserted. The proposal does not give credit for reading, Friedman said, which is how lawyers such as himself keep up. More schooling does not necessarily mean more education. “You can go to CLE and gonk out,” Friedman asserted. “Some of the stuff is deadly.” DISSENTERS A MINORITY? Patricia C. Bobb, chairman of the rules committee and former Chicago Bar president, claimed that MCLE dissenters are in the minority. “To suggest that there is huge opposition to this just isn’t true,” said Bobb, who is of counsel to Chicago’s Propes & Kaveny. Education is good for lawyers, she said, and the intent of MCLE is to protect both the public and the profession. There’s a better way to protect the public, said Ann Lousin, a veteran CLE presenter and professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. She suggests having board certifications, as the medical profession does, in areas like estate law or criminal defense where a consumer would be vulnerable. “How many naive, innocent consumers are going to antitrust lawyers?” Lousin said. “Good CLE, not mandatory CLE, is what is needed.” The other states without CLE are Alaska, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey and South Dakota, along with the District of Columbia.

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