by Jay Marshall Wolman
As a lawyer admitted in multiple jurisdictions, I find myself having to ensure I keep up with Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements. With my CIPP/US certification, I also have continuing education requirements. Doctors have CME requirements, and other certifications and professions have their own continuing education requirements. And some don’t.
For example, I’m admitted in New York, D.C., Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Only one, New York, requires that I engage in continuing legal education. The rest just recommend it. (Connecticut is in the midst of a debate as to requiring it.)
Continuing education can be a good thing. Rather than having to retake the bar exam every 10 years, the theory of CLE is to ensure that lawyers remain up to date with developments in the law. But the theory doesn’t work.
Here’s how I satisfy my biennial 24 hours of NY CLE requirements: about two months before the due date, I scurry around to find the $99 special for a package of .mp3 recordings containing all mandatory hours. Then, as I have time in the mornings or evenings, I listen to them. It’s great to learn about developments in the uniform probate code or handling DUI cases–except that’s not what I practice. Most of my mandatory CLE is dreck.
One time, I bought a package of all employment law CLE courses. Not bad, but there was quite a lot of repetition among them. And still, the package contained hours on employee benefits law, which is not what I practice. Now, if Connecticut adopts a CLE requirement, I can only hope that the packages I buy will be dual-certified for NY and CT, else it will set me up for an even further waste of time.
Yet, as a lawyer, I continue to develop my practice. I blog, with many pieces requiring me to learn new and burgeoning areas of the law. Even my Third Amendment blog required me to read several new law review articles and recent caselaw. I attend bar programs, listen to webinars, write articles, and read legal developments, many of which aren’t CLE certified. For example, I just listened to yesterday’s legal blogging panel featuring Scott Greenfield, Keith Lee, Mark Bennett, and Brian Tannebaum; though perhaps it could get certified for NY CLE ethics and practice management, I don’t believe it is. But a lawyer can learn a lot from it.
Lawyers who get disbarred have kept up with their CLE requirements. Lawyers who lose malpractice cases have kept up with their CLE requirements. Lawyers whose clients successfully argue ineffective assistance of counsel have kept up with their CLE requirements. Opposing counsel who write inane demand letters and absurd pleadings/briefs have kept up with their CLE requirements.
Lawyers already have an ethical duty to be competent, as do those with other licenses and certifications. Continuing education may be an effort by proxy to ensure competence, but though good in theory, it is lousy in practice. If the goal is to protect the clients, requiring mandatory professional liability insurance is the best bet. If the goal is to make the local bar seem more diligent, I can’t imagine who would really care if their criminal lawyer just wasted 2 hours on patent law developments. If the goal is to perpetuate an industry of CLE providers–well, that one is successful.