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Mandatory CLE for (young?) (less experienced?) (all?) attorneys

The last two days of my life were spent in a conference room out of town learning the finer points of government procurement and contracting. For eight hours a day, I listened to the same instructor discuss bid protests, the Federal Acquisition Regulations and termination for convenience clauses for federally funded construction projects.

continuing legal educationOn my bucket list of things to do before I die (which includes but is not limited to running a marathon in the 13 original colonies, visiting the Great Wall of China, and attending the championship game/finals of the four majors sports), learning the intricacies of the Eichleay formula (used to calculate overhead claims resulting from a construction delay) is not one of them.

Regardless, continuing legal education plays an important role for any lawyer, but especially younger, less seasoned attorneys. Maryland does not require mandatory CLE, though the tipping point appears close at hand. But why are there so many practitioners opposed to mandatory legal education?

Since law school, I have attended CLEs that vary in topic and substance. Early in my legal career, my focus centered on trial advocacy courses (i.e. how to be a lawyer). Lately, the courses I attend focus on specific areas of my practice, whether construction law, employment or other forms of commercial litigation. Some of these courses were free, given by my local bar association, the MSBA or ABA. Others are not free (and I am fortunate that my firm covers the cost for the courses I attend).

The organic nature of law results in an ever-changing practice. Laws are enacted by our legislature, analyzed by lawyers and interpreted by the courts. The law constantly changes, so why not require attorneys to keep updated on these changes and trends. Judges attend judge school. I want my physician to have learned the latest medical procedure, so why not my attorney? Horses and bayonets worked in the past for for our military, but times have changed.

For young lawyers, even if mandatory CLE never comes to fruition, learning how to practice law and learning the law should be a priority. And for those who think they know the law, failing to keep updated on current trends in law is akin to traveling with an out of date map.

2 comments

  1. How is it possible that one of the most demanding professions in this state does not require its members to get some stupid continuing education? The law changes, most lawyers will not stay on top of all the new developments on their own initiative, and clients suffer as a result. Of course, whether clients will ever find out about this detriment is doubtful, which is probably why lawyers here don’t bother to get some stupid continuing education.

  2. Mr. Siri,

    I am in full agreement that CLE plays an important role in the development of young lawyers. Just looking at the MSBA CLE offerings, one can get valuable experience and advice in everything from estate planning to bankruptcy to learning how to start their own firm. In addition, attending CLEs is a fantastic way for a young lawyer to meet other attorneys with similar interest, and to have access to experts in the field of law being taught.

    With that said, compulsory attendance at these courses tends to lead to people showing up just to get their tickets punched. Often, this brings down the overall experience for those who actually are interested in attending the CLE.

    Further, CLEs that can be obtained remotely (webcasts) are even less likely to benefit one who is not engaged.

    As you know, we can make CLEs mandatory, but we cannot force someone to be engaged in learning the material.

    CLE is an important part in the development of rookie and seasoned attorneys alike, but mandating participation in CLE is not the answer.