A proposal to require new lawyers to participate in a day of career training met with some push back last week by members of the Rules Committee for the Superior Court, who questioned whether the responsibility of career training should fall on the state Judicial Branch.
The proposal for a so-called "boot camp" for new lawyers came recently from a Rules Committee task force that had been looking into whether the state should adopt minimum continuing legal educaton for lawyers. The task force, chaired by Judge Elliot Solomon, noted deep divisions among lawyers in the state over MCLE and recommended that it’s not something that should be pursued at this time.
Instead, the task force recommended creating a rule to require a one-day basic skills course for the estimated 700 newly admitted lawyers in the state each year.
In discussing that proposal, several Rules Committee members expressed concerns about the potential cost of running the boot camp program. That expense, they said, said would fall upon the already strapped Judicial Branch.
The program "would be free to the participants, but it wouldn’t be free to the Branch," Judge Jon M. Alander said, questioning why the court system should be responsible for training lawyers
Alander wasn’t convinced that requiring MCLE for just some attorneys was the right thing to do. He found it a bit unfair that the state would try to impose a CLE requirement on new bar members, who have no lobbying voice, and keep the status quo for established lawyers.
When other committee members pointed out that Connecticut is only one of a few states that doesn’t have MCLE, Alander shot back that Connecticut might be a state "that doesn’t need MCLE."
"Sometimes doing nothing is better," he said, "rather than assuming responsibility for something that is someone else’s responsibility."
Alander further suggested that the responsibilty for making graduates practice-ready is best placed on law schools, which already have resources to provide the type of legal training new lawyers need.
Judge Richard W. Dyer, in defending the proposal that had been reached as a compromise among members of the task force, suggested requiring new lawyers to take the class might be a good way "to build a stronger voluntary CLE program in the state."
Although the committee was expected to vote on the boot camp measure at the meeting, another Rules Committee member, Judge Barbara N. Bellis, said it was clear the committee was far from agreeing on the topic of requiring continuing legal education for any bar member.
With that in mind, she suggested Judge Solomon make a presentation to the committee at its March meeting. If the Rules Committee decides at that point to consider requiring a training day for new lawyers, a public hearing will be held in May.
If the committee then votes to adopt the rule, the matter will face a vote by the entire state bench. That meeting typically occurs in June. While that date seems a long way off, committee members acknowledged that a consensus on how to proceed is a long way off.
"It’s getting down to crunch time," said state Supreme Court Justice Dennis G. Eveleigh, the committee chair.
At least one law school leader wondered about the effectiveness of a one-day skills program for new lawyers.
Although she did not attend the Rules Committee meeting, Lesley Levin, Asociate Dean for Academic Affairs and a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said the school is already doing a great deal to ready graduates for the real world.
At UConn, graduates are required to complete an "experiential learning" course through a supervised internship. Levin said all graduates must have interacted with real clients in clinics run by the law school, or through an externship.
While Levin said strong arguments have been made about the benefits of MCLE in keeping attorneys up to date in their practice areas, "I question how much you’re going to teach a bar applicant in one day."
But Levin did say the cost and responsibility for such a program, if approved, should be borne by the Judicial Branch. "I can appreciated the Rules Committee looking elsewhere for money to pay for mandatory legal education," she said, "but having the courts bear at least some of the the expense is the model in most states."•