In November 2022, the Supreme Court of Maryland commissioned a work group to study whether to implement minimum continuing legal education (CLE) in Maryland and, if so, how CLE should be implemented. On June 16, 2023, the work group (including two MSBA representatives) issued a report recommending that Maryland adopt a minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) rule and require attorneys to complete a certain number of CLE credits each year to retain their bar admission. More specifically, the Judiciary Report recommended that attorneys obtain at least 12 CLE credits per year, with at least one credit in each of the following: Ethics & Professionalism, Health & Wellness, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. The report also recommended annual reporting and exemptions for attorneys with Inactive/Retired status, and attorneys within their first year of admission.
Following the release of the Judiciary Report, the MSBA Board of Governors determined that it should monitor developments related to the report and ensure that members were informed of these developments. To do so, the MSBA built a web page with the latest details and developments. The Board created an MCLE Rapid Response Task Force (hereinafter referred to as the Task Force), chaired by Past President M. Natalie McSherry and President-Elect Raphael J. Santini. The Task Force was charged with informing members, collecting member feedback, and providing comprehensive comments to the Maryland Judiciary.
The Task Force used several methods to solicit member feedback, including: opening a comment portal for open-ended comments, conducting a member survey, hosting three virtual listening sessions with members and stakeholder organizations, and a virtual town hall with local and specialty bar associations. The MSBA also sent member-wide emails with an overview of the issue, the Judiciary’s MCLE Workgroup report, timeline, resources, and FAQs; and weekly updates to members via the MSBA e-weekly and social media.
Attorneys and representative organizations from a variety of practice areas across the state, as well as attorneys barred in other jurisdictions, provided comments over seven weeks. Given the quick timeline for feedback, MSBA did not hear from all substantive Sections and potentially impacted practitioners, but the comments from those who participated raised several themes and issues that are important to consider if MCLE is adopted.
In its November 10, 2023, MSBA MCLE Rapid Response Task Force Comments & Recommendations, the task force conveyed the following information to the Judiciary:
MSBA affirms a neutral stance on the implementation of MCLE in Maryland: As member feedback was mixed on MCLE adoption and no clear consensus on the issue emerged, MSBA’s Board of Governors voted to maintain a neutral stance as to whether the Supreme Court of Maryland should adopt MCLE, and instead opted to share a summary of member views and considerations for implementation in its role as the statewide bar association and voice of the profession.
MSBA member feedback included both positive implications and core considerations for MCLE implementation: Positive themes include improved public perception, maintaining standards of practice, avoiding misconduct, and the potential for increased participation in pro bono work. Members described positive professional benefits from a variety of existing MSBA and local bar association educational programs, and requested that these activities receive accreditation. Considerations members noted include time constraints and costs for taking, tracking, and reporting CLE credits, flexible reciprocity with other states and/or legal-adjacent practice areas, and penalties for lack of compliance.
If MCLE moves toward adoption in Maryland, MSBA strongly advocates for an innovative, attorney-friendly model: The MSBA has substantial expertise concerning MCLE accreditation and various MCLE models that have been adopted by jurisdictions throughout the country. Existing models vary greatly by jurisdiction, and no one model may be perfectly aligned with the goals outlined in the Report. Based on the feedback received from members, and MSBA’s expertise as an accredited provider in three neighboring MCLE states and an active participant in national CLE-related organizations, MSBA recommends that any MCLE program adopted in Maryland should include:
- Flexible and inclusive reciprocity and accreditation standards that include both traditional CLE, and other high-quality programs and activities, including pro bono, valued by Maryland attorneys, to address the time and affordability concerns of practitioners;
- No limits on distance learning, allowing all MCLE credits to be completed digitally;
- Easy self-reporting and compliance measures that coincide with the current IOLTA and pro bono reporting deadline to encourage participation;
- A reasonable exemption, waiver, and reactivation policy;
- Acknowledgement of MSBA as a presumptive provider, and immediate accreditation of MSBA’s CLE programs already accredited with the surrounding MCLE states; and
- MSBA representation on any governing MCLE Commission or Board.