Continuing legal education (CLE) is essential in today’s practice of law. CLE is an effective means of keeping lawyers up-to-date on emerging new laws and changes to existing ones that pertain to their substantive legal fields. Lawyers engage in CLE to sharpen their legal expertise, polish their practical business skills and learn about developments in ethics and conflicts of interests, especially in today’s global legal market. Maryland lawyers, however, are not required to engage in CLE.
CLE is still voluntary in Maryland, although the issue of a mandatory CLE requirement for all lawyers in the state occasionally surfaces. It last emerged in 1995, when a minimum CLE requirement was considered. Now the issue of mandatory CLE has surfaced again and is currently under review by the Judiciary’s Commission on Professionalism, headed by Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, Court of Appeals of Maryland. One of the Commission’s subcommittees, the MCLE Committee, recently supported a mandatory CLE requirement. This proposal is slated to go before the full Commission in January 2010.
In anticipation of this, MSBA wants to know what our members think about MCLE. Therefore, the Association has sent out a brief online survey to all MSBA members seeking member views on a mandatory CLE requirement for Maryland lawyers. All members are urged to take a few minutes to complete this electronic poll. Please give us your views on MCLE to help guide your Association on this issue. The Association will compile the results and use this feedback to devise a Board of Governors’ position to present to the Court.
Currently, Maryland lawyers largely participate in CLE through MICPEL in-person and electronic programs. Many take advantage of other online venues as well, and these are popular as they give attorneys the option of participating from their offices. Today, lawyers are capitalizing on technology to acquire CLE via audiocassettes, video and audio programs, self-study materials on the Internet, podcasting, webinars and teleconferencing.
It was a different world when MSBA considered MCLE in 1995. The fax machine was the latest innovation, and e-mail had yet to gain widespread usage. Advanced technology was on the horizon, but it was just beginning to revolutionize the world. MICPEL was the CLE vehicle for lawyers, and classroom presentations and videotapes were the only venues available. It was in this context that MSBA conducted its probe of MCLE in 1995.
Fourteen years ago, MSBA launched a comprehensive study of continuing legal education for lawyers in Maryland, analyzed the findings and, in a final report, supported a minimum CLE (MCLE) requirement of 30 hours for all lawyers in Maryland, over a two-year timeframe. This recommendation hailed from MSBA’s CLE Committee, led by MSBA past President Cleaveland D. Miller, and was endorsed by the Association’s Board in March 1995. The Rules Committee of the Court of Appeals of Maryland next considered this recommendation later that spring but took no action.
In 1995, Maryland was one of 10 states not having a CLE requirement for lawyers. Today, Maryland is one of five without it. The four others are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and South Dakota.
MSBA sought to enhance the competence and professionalism of Maryland lawyers and saw the need for increased CLE so attorneys could keep up with constant new developments in substantive areas of the law as well as the law’s growing complexity. Additionally, as cited by the CLE Committee in 1995, “the growing pressures of the economics of the legal profession in today’s environment may prevent lawyers with good intentions from participating in CLE.”
Therefore, MSBA proposed a minimum requirement whereby each attorney would be required to take 30 hours of education activity every two years, and during two reporting periods (a four-year period), four hours of instruction would be devoted to legal ethics and four hours to professionalism. In this way, MCLE would enhance an attorneys’ professionalism, assist them in areas of ethics and conflicts of interest, sharpen their practical business skills and ultimately help them better serve their clients.
MSBA’s Board of Governors’ original recommendation in 1995 remains intact, as it never emerged from the Court’s Rules Committee. MSBA’s Board will soon be considering a new position based on member input reflected in the online survey. Therefore, ALL MSBA members are urged to fill out the online survey and send it back to MSBA. Thank You!