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Court of Appeals takes over professionalism course

After nearly 20 years of delegating the design, operation and expense of the professionalism course for new lawyers to the Maryland State Bar Association, the state’s top court has decided to make a change.

Under a rule that went into effect this month, the Court of Appeals “may develop the structure and features of the course on its own,” although the chief judge can still designate another entity, within or outside the judicial branch, to propose the course.

MSBA President Thomas D. Murphy said the bar association has “no hard feelings” toward the high court’s judges for taking administration of the course away from the group, which has operated it since its inception in 1992.

“They wanted to bring the course, which is their course, under the court’s umbrella,” Murphy said last week. “We both have the same goal: to make sure that the new admittees get the right launch. We’re on the same page.”

The first Court of Appeals-administered course will be held in May for attorney candidates who passed the February bar and are slated to be sworn in this June.

The Maryland Judiciary will charge a $40 fee to each of the 400 candidates expected to attend the May course, said Faye Matthews, of the Administrative Office of the Courts. The $16,000 raised via the fee is expected to cover the judiciary’s expenses, including lunch and materials, added Matthews, AOC’s deputy administrator.

To keep expenses down, the course will be held at the Judiciary Education and Conference Center, an Annapolis facility already leased by the judiciary, she said.

If the fees do not cover expenses, the judiciary will “absorb” the loss and seek to recover it in the fiscal 2013 budget, she added.

“This will be a lessons-learned type of year,” Matthews said. “Hopefully, we will not take a loss.”

The MSBA spent more than $600,000 of its own money during the 19 years it ran the course, Murphy said. Those expenses, which often included renting space at the Baltimore Convention Center, were not covered by the fees collected from the course’s attendees, he added. (Attendees were charged $65 each for the MSBA’s most recent — and final — course, in December.)

The association was honored to invite attorneys and judges to teach professionalism to incoming lawyers, said Murphy, of Murphy & Mood PC in Rockville.

“We were very proud of what we did,” Murphy said.

The judiciary’s Commission on Professionalism, which advises the Court of Appeals, is developing an outline for the May course. Court of Appeals Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, who chairs the commission, was out of the office last week and could not be reached for comment.

Battaglia chairs the judiciary’s Professionalism Commission, which has also proposed adding a 10-hour annual continuing legal education requirement for attorneys after they have been admitted to the bar.

At present, the one-day professionalism course is the only education required for admission in Maryland after law school.

The requirement is found in Rule 11 of the Rules Governing Admission to the Bar of Maryland. The prior version — which called on MSBA to administer the course — expired Dec. 31.

Last year, the Court of Appeals called on the judiciary’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure to propose a new rule to give the court greater control over the course.

New Rule 11, which the court adopted March 7, also permits the Court of Appeals to admit to the bar a candidate who, for good cause, has not completed the course — but only on the condition that he or she completes the course the next time it is offered.

Those who fail to complete that course will be prohibited from practicing law until the high court receives “satisfactory proof” that the course has been completed, the rule states.

The rule will remain in effect until Jan. 1, 2016. Prior to that date, the court will appoint a committee to help the judges evaluate and decide how the course should be administered in 2016 and beyond, the rule states.

The committee will consist of judges, lawyers, law professors and bar association representatives.

The professionalism course is given twice per year, in May and December. It is offered two days in each of those months, with each attorney candidate being assigned a specific day to attend.

The candidates are required to take the course between the day they are notified they passed the bar and the date of their scheduled swearing in.