First, a little history.
At the 1976 Mid-Year Meeting of the MSBA, President Wilbur “Woody” Preston called on the Chairman of the Recertification Committee (the archives are fairly silent on what that committee recertified, but one can speculate) for a report. Chairman Marvin Garbis (not yet Judge Garbis) delivered the report, and offered the following comment: “Woody, in substance I think it is coming and I would ask if somebody from the Rules Committee would give us something more authoritative on when.” The “it” to which Garbis was referring was mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE).
That prediction notwithstanding, MCLE fell off the radar screen for the next ten years. It wasn’t until the June 1987 Annual Meeting of the MSBA that the issue was addressed again. Judge Ellen Heller, the Chair of the Continuing Legal Education Committee, presented her committee’s report on MCLE. By then 17 states had implemented MCLE. But the Maryland Bar was not ready. The Committee recommended against MCLE, citing the lack of data showing that continuing legal education improved competency. Alternatives to encourage attorneys to engage in voluntary legal education were to be explored, but the MSBA was opposed to MCLE.
Again the issue became quiescent. Then, in 1993, MSBA President Edward Shea asked the CLE Committee to relook at the issue. Interestingly, the topic had a new title. It was no longer called Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. It was now Minimum Continuing Legal Education. In any event, by this point 40 states had adopted MCLE.
In June 1994, Dennis Belman became MSBA President and he made MCLE a priority. At the end of his term, the Committee on Continuing Legal Education, then chaired by past President Cleaveland Miller, unanimously recommended to the Board of Governors that the “Court of Appeals of Maryland approve a system of minimum continuing legal education for all attorneys licensed to practice law in Maryland.” While the Committee acknowledged the lack of empirical evidence establishing a link between CLE and competency, it cited surveys showing that lawyers in MCLE jurisdictions felt that attending CLE programs did improve their competence. Other issues were addressed and, after a full-throated debate, the Board of Governors approved the recommendation and adopted a resolution urging the Court of Appeals to mandate a program of minimum continuing legal education.
Most thought the issue was resolved and that MCLE in Maryland was a fait accompli. Most were wrong. Unexpectedly, the Court of Appeals declined to adopt such a program. Mandatory (or Minimum) Continuing Legal Education was again on the back burner.
Fast forward to 2009. The Maryland Commission on Professionalism, established by the Court of Appeals, came forward with a recommendation supporting MCLE. The very same arguments made fifteen years ago, pro and con, were rolled out anew. Sensing a shift in the winds since the last vote on the issue, the MSBA decided to ask its members what they wanted. A survey was issued. Perhaps not too surprising, a majority of its members who felt strongly enough about MCLE to respond to the survey said they didn’t want it. Ironically, the Court of Appeals, once opposed to MCLE, now appeared to favor it, and the MSBA, a former advocate for MCLE, was opposed.
Gridlock ensued. But time moved on, new issues arose, and the call for MCLE faded once again.
Now here we are in 2013, and an old friend has returned. At this year’s MSBA Annual Meeting, the Family Law Section presented a program entitled “Mandatory CLE, Why Not?” Following the meeting a new Chief Judge and a new Associate Judge were appointed to the Court of Appeals. Speculation swirled as to where the new Court will come down on the issue. The Commission on Professionalism, now known as the Professionalism Center, is planning a Symposium on, among other issues, MCLE. At last count 44 states now have mandatory continuing legal education.
New debate, probably resembling the old, will most likely follow. Our history tells us that none of our sentiments on MCLE, either pro or con, are held in perpetuity. Courts change, the MSBA changes, and the times change. And a familiar discussion starts again.