After lengthy discussions, the Rules Committee for the Superior Court has voted down a proposal to require new lawyers to participate in one day of career training before launching their careers. The proposed "boot camp" for new lawyers was seen as a compromise to a Connecticut Bar Association plan to bring mandatory legal education for lawyers in the state.
On Monday, March 25, the Rules Committee ended the MCLE discussion for now, voting 4 to 3 against the boot camp.
"The next step would be for the CBA to decide what, if anything, they wish to do about it going forward," Chief Court Administrator Barbara Quinn said after the vote. "It was up to the Rules Committee to determine whether they think such changes are appropriate, so that procedure was followed."
CBA President Barry Hawkins indicated the image of "a burial" for MCLE propoals, as recently suggested in a Law Tribune column by CBA Vice President Mark Dubois, seemed appropriate. "I don’t think this issue is going to go away forever, but I think it’s clear that time and energy [of CBA leadership] is probably better spent on other matters," Hawkins said. "It’s pretty clear the state of mind among those who would make a difference in implementing MCLE is not in line with adopting it in the immediate future."
Hawkins said it is "unfortunate that it may take an event or series of events" of mistakes or instances of attorney malfeasance "to get people focused on the training and licensing of lawyers and their ability to keep practicing the law."
The plan for a one-day training for newly admitted Connecticut lawyers was one of two recommendations that a Rules Committee task force on MCLE came up with earlier this year. The other idea, for an annual "professional day" in each judicial district, during which lawyers would voluntary take part in seminars and legal education discussions, will move forward. That proposal did not need the approval of the Rules Committee.
No Empirical Evidence
The issue of requiring ongoing legal training for practicing lawyers has been tossed around for years, but has met with resistance by those objecting to the time and money investment for attorneys. Though 46 states now have CLE, Connecticut opponents have also noted that there is no empirical evidence that there is a higher quality of lawyering in places where CLE is required.
The CBA suggested a plan that all lawyers be required to annually certify in writing that they have taken 36 hours of CLE during the past three years. Most of those hours would have been self-study, with 15 hours devoted to more formal classes and seminars.
Superior Court Judge Elliot Solomon was selected to lead the task force to study the feasibility of an MCLE program, and how much it would cost to run. From the beginning of his assignment last year, Solomon noted deep division among lawyers. Opponents of MCLE included members of regional bar groups like the New Haven County Bar Association. That group polled its members and found 70 percent of its 1,300 members did not like the idea of MCLE, citing concerns about time away from work and costs.
And so Solomon’s task force recommended that full MCLE not be pursued at this time. The one-day training course, which would have included legal ethics, court procedure and law office management training, was touted as a compromise. But even that modest proposal drew objections, as some wondered whether a one-day course would have any impact and others worried about the cost of offering the boot camp to the already cash-strapped Judicial Branch.
Song-Ho Hwang, a New Haven immigration attorney who was not on the task force but is currently president of the New Haven County Bar Association, indicated the vote against the one-day MCLE for new lawyers was appropriate.
"There are other things that are more important right now," Hwang said. For one thing, the Rules Committee has been looking at ways to cut down on the large number of self-represented parties, who are taking business away from small firms and solos. A plan to start a pilot program to allow attorneys to represent people in portions of family law cases — but not the entire case — was approved by the Rules Committee, although the details have not been sorted out.
"The other issue is, there’s never been any evidence that having MCLEs has a correlation to preventing attorney misconduct," Hwang said. "And there’s no evidence out there that proves having continued legal education results in better representation."
For now, Hwang said, the "Professional Day" will be a good way for attorneys to focus on learning.
"If there is one day set aside for lawyers to devote to learning about changes in the law, if they want to participate, I think that makes the most sense right now, " he said.