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The Maryland Supreme Court held an online forum on to receive verbal comments on its final report and recommendations of the Workgroup to Study Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) in Maryland. At the December 13 forum, which was webcast and is available to watch on the judiciary website, MSBA Past President Natalie McSherry provided comments on behalf of the MSBA, and President Elect Raphael J. Santini spoke on behalf of MSBA and Local and Specialty Bar Associations.

Since the workgroup report was released in September, MSBA has been committed to providing regular updates to members on any developments relating to MCLE in Maryland. As part of its mission as the voice of Maryland’s legal profession, MSBA held three listening sessions to hear from individuals and organizations on specific issues related to MCLE, and accepted written comments via a feedback portal. The tenor of member comments and concerns is reflected in the testimony provided by Past President McSherry and President Elect Santini. Their prepared statements appear in full, below. To read more about MSBA’s efforts throughout this process, go to https://www.msba.org/mcle/.

 

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MCLE Comments to the Maryland Judiciary on Behalf of the MSBA
Natalie McSherry, Past President

Good afternoon, my name is M. Natalie McSherry and I appear before you on behalf of the Maryland State Bar Association as a Past President and Co-Chair of MSBA’s MCLE Rapid Response Task Force. Throughout the fall, our Task Force informed members about the Judiciary’s MCLE Report and gathered feedback through a variety of channels. On November 10, we submitted a Comment and Recommendation on behalf of the association. Today I will highlight details from our submission. 

MSBA Will Continue to Provide CLE to Support the Profession:

MSBA’s support of the profession includes accredited CLE programs in a variety of practice areas, with virtual access to hundreds of programs included with standard membership. 

MSBA remains committed to providing widely accredited, affordable CLE programs to attorneys, regardless of whether an MCLE requirement begins. 

Our Board recently pledged to offer enough free digital CLE with membership to meet any MCLE requirements that may be instituted for the next decade.  

 Member Feedback:

Members from a variety of practice areas and jurisdictions shared mixed perspectives related to MCLE. 

Many appreciated the professional benefits of existing educational programs, with 86% of respondents to our member survey consuming one or more hours of CLE per year (with 41% consuming 11 or more hours per year). 

Those in favor of MCLE discussed improved public perception, civility, better standards of practice, and the importance of ethics training to reduce instances of misconduct.

 Concerns mostly centered around “unknowns” including time and cost, reciprocity and accreditation standards, and non-compliance penalties.

Overall, members find value in a combination of learning opportunities and suggest that  existing bar association programs including roundtables, lunch and learns, mentorship sessions, publications, bar leadership, section activities, and pro bono work, be accredited in addition to traditional CLEs.

Digital and on-demand access to programming is also highly valued by practitioners, including those with accessibility issues. 

Member feedback summaries are included in Appendix D of our materials.

MSBA’s Position and Recommendations: 

Given the diverse views of our members, MSBA remains neutral regarding MCLE adoption. If the Judiciary moves forward, MSBA recommends an innovative, attorney-friendly model that includes the following: 

  • 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.

Appendix B in our submission identifies the most attorney-friendly rules from other MCLE jurisdictions, categorized by issue, that support a “flexible and inclusive approach” suggested by the Judiciary’s Work Group. We encourage the Judiciary to consider these examples including:

  • Recognition of any accredited program from another MCLE jurisdiction;
  • One credit hour granted for every two hours of pro bono service;    
  • Recognition and liberal hours granted for cross-professional programs, Bar activities and leadership, legal writing, and serving as faculty;
  • Fulfillment of all MCLE credits through digital programs;
  • Reduced obligations for seasoned attorneys maintaining their license primarily for pro bono work; and
  • Liberal grace period for non-compliance

 MSBA remains available as a partner to the Judiciary for any further discussion of implementation and rules regarding MCLE and regarding legal education generally.

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MCLE Comments to the Maryland Judiciary on Behalf of the MSBA and Local and Specialty Bar Associations
Raphael Santini, President-Elect 

Good afternoon, my name is Raphael Santini and I appear before you on behalf of the Maryland State Bar Association as a President-Elect and Co-Chair of MSBA’s MCLE Rapid Response Task Force. The Task Force reached out to local and specialty bars to solicit their comments and feedback through multiple listening sessions as well as a virtual town hall between the bar associations, MSBA President Jason DeLoach, and members of the MCLE Task Force.

Today I present comments and recommendations on behalf of the MSBA and the thirteen local and specialty bar signatories to our November 10th letter to the Judiciary regarding MCLE:

Anne Arundel County Bar Association
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Maryland
Baltimore County Bar Association
Bankruptcy Bar Association for the District of Maryland
Bar Association of Montgomery County
Charles County Bar Association
J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association
Maryland Defense Counsel
Maryland Hispanic Bar Association
Maryland Municipal Attorneys Association
Prince George’s County Bar Association
St. Mary’s County Bar Association
Women’s Bar Association of Maryland

As Ms. McSherry mentioned, the MSBA and local and specialty bars have historically provided high-quality, affordable educational programs to enhance and support the profession, with many of these programs receiving accreditation in surrounding states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Our associations provide traditional CLEs as well as other opportunities to connect and learn through mentorships, networking, leadership development, practice-area work, and pro bono service.

Regardless of whether MCLE is adopted in the state, our associations will continue to increase the volume and variety of programs to support attorneys.

If MCLE is adopted in Maryland, our associations hope to see an increase in program and membership revenue, but may be disadvantaged and outnumbered by for-profit and out-of-state organizations that begin to move into the state. We respectfully request the following:

  1. State, Local, and Specialty Bars Associations based in Maryland should be “presumptive providers.”

We appreciate the Judiciary’s MCLE Workgroup’s recognition of the importance of established state, local, and specialty bar association programming and the recommendation of granting them “presumptive provider” status in their Report, to avoid administrative permits, costs, and delays.

  1. State, Local, and Specialty Bar CLE providers should have a favorable fee structure.

Most MCLE jurisdictions require an annual or per-program fee for accredited providers or programs. As for-profit and out-of-state providers move into the state and target Maryland attorneys, we recommend a more favorable fee structure to state, local, and specialty bar associations to acknowledge our historical support of the profession and to ease the financial and competitive burdens resulting from new providers.

  1. State, Local and Specialty Bar CLE providers with programming accredited with another MCLE state should have that programming automatically and immediately approved for credit in Maryland.

The Workgroup’s preference for flexible reciprocity for attorneys barred in multiple jurisdictions, through recognition of any program accredited in another state, as well as the preference for immediate implementation of MCLE requirements (rather than a phased-in approach), will require a library of accredited MCLE programs in Maryland.

Given this need, we strongly recommend that programs accredited by state, local, or specialty bar associations over the past five years with one or more surrounding MCLE jurisdictions, be automatically accredited in Maryland. This will ensure Maryland attorneys have ready access to a large number of programs upon implementation of MCLE. This will also further improve the competitiveness of state, local, and specialty bar associations with for-profit and out-of-state providers and honor the historical commitments to the profession from local, specialty, and state providers.

MSBA has engaged with local and specialty bars throughout this process and we will continue to work with these groups, to make sure we consider all aspects of the MCLE process and timeline and understand the technical needs associated with accrediting programs. MSBA will be willing and able to partner with local and specialty bar associations to assist them in providing their diverse membership with accredited CLE.