Forty-six states have adopted Mandatory (or Minimum) Continuing Legal Education Rules (MCLE) for their respective bars. Connecticut, however, remains in that exceedingly small minority that somehow continues to believe that its abstinence is the right way to go, and all those other states just got it wrong. Worse yet, the recently appointed Superior Court Rules Committee Task Force to Study Minimum Continuing Legal Education has decided to keep this state anchored among the few who believe you can have a learned profession without learning.
The Task Force was appointed by the Chief Justice after the Superior Court Rules Committee tabled the proposed MCLE Rules submitted to it by the Connecticut Bar Association following its House of Delegates approval of them twice by overwhelming margins.
The CBA’s proposed rules were first submitted to the Rules Committee in September 2011, after the CBA’s own task force spent some five years studying the issue, soliciting the input of bar groups around the state, and then drafting the rules that were approved unanimously by the House of Delegates.
The Rules Committee, apparently concerned about the vociferous objections of a small minority of individuals and bar associations, declined to act. So the CBA Task Force took back the rules, conducted a roundtable conference to which all bar organizations were invited, solicited yet additional input and recommendations, and revised the rules to address any and all objections to the rules — except, of course, the opposition to the adoption of any MCLE. The CBA’s House voted again — and again approved the revised rules — with only one vote in opposition and one abstention. Back to the Rules Committee went the revised rules in March 2012, but again the committee failed to act. Instead, it deferred its decision so as to allow the Chief Justice to appoint a committee to study the matter.
Now that Task Force, comprised of two Superior Court Judges, 10 attorneys from the private and public sectors, and three Judicial Branch staff members, has declined to recommend the adoption of the CBA’s proposed rules — or any rules for MCLE. Instead, it has solemnly nodded in the direction of the value of lawyer continuing education and proposed a wholly anemic and inadequate substitute. The Task Force has recommended a one-day mandatory "Basic Skills Course" for all new admittees and a voluntary statewide "Professionalism Day" in the state courts for other lawyers.
The factor that apparently doomed MCLE in the Task Force was the perceived (not actual) cost to the Judicial Branch for its implementation and management. But the CBA was not oblivious to the current fiscal issues confronting the Judicial Branch and made clear in its proposed rules that, after a modest initial start-up cost, the MCLE program would be self-funding by virtue of the fees that would be imposed on all the CLE providers — a point the Task Force apparently found unpersuasive.
But more to the point, can it really be argued that the Judicial Branch in the most affluent state in the nation must reject MCLE as an unbearable financial burden, when Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and 43 other states have somehow managed to establish, implement and maintain such programs in their judicial branches? Is the legal profession in this state supposed to put itself on "hold" while the Judicial Branch fights its never-ending battles with the state legislature for adequate funding?
The non-fiscal arguments against mandatory continuing legal education should not have persuaded the Task Force, because they are all tired and threadbare and were, in any event, all addressed in the CBA’s proposed rules.
•It’s Too Expensive. The proposed rules provide for 20 of the 36 hours required every three-year period to be satisfied with online courses or self-study, and, upon application of a member and good cause shown for financial, transportation or other considerations, the number of hours permitted to be satisfied in this manner may be increased. Credit can be obtained by teaching courses or publishing articles in legal publications. But most importantly, we are members of a profession that is indisputably one of the highest earning in the nation; we cannot in good faith cry poor mouth in opposition to MCLE.
• I Already Do CLE. Fine. If true, then MCLE rules would not affect you. So why are you objecting?
•Some Lawyers Will Game The System; You Can’t Make Them Learn. True. But we all had classmates in law school who did the same thing. Should we close the law schools? No effort to elevate the profession should ever be defined by the lowest common denominator. In any event, the proposed rules expressly state their intention to "provide . . . relevant and useful continuing legal education courses covering the broadest spectrum of substantive, ethical and professional subject matter . . .," so as to ensure MCLE will provide a meaningful experience for all.
•You Are Always Telling Me What To Do. Enough is Enough. Please remember, the practice of law is a regulated profession. Thus far, it is largely self-regulated. Abandon that responsibility, and the void will be filled by others — like the legislature.
In a world where the law is growing and changing at lightning speed and in a profession where the paramount duty is to protect the client’s interests, can the bar and the bench truly justify its embarrassing hold-out against the required maintenance of legal acumen and skill? We think not.•