What's New In Legal
Mandating CLE for Maryland Attorneys
In April 2004, during my two-year term as President of MICPEL, Maryland's Daily
Record published a series of articles examining continuing legal education
(CLE) in Maryland and around the country. The series concluded by posing
the following question to readers: "Maryland lawyers have absolutely no obligation
to participate in continuing legal education (CLE) to maintain their licenses
to practice law. It is a fair question to ask, ‘Why not?'"
Today, almost three years later, the answer to the question "why not?" remains
elusive. This article seeks to present some important factors to be considered
by everyone in Maryland's legal community as we form a response to the recurring
query of whether we should be required to participate in CLE.
No profession or occupation has a greater annual increase of new information
than the legal profession. As lawyers, we are responsible for knowing rapidly
changing and expanding laws on the local, state and federal levels. We must
keep up with intermediate and final appellate decisions of both state and federal
courts. As New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye noted, "The
eternal truth is that law is a profession that by its nature demands constant
study to maintain even the barest of competence."
The issues on which we lawyers are asked to provide guidance are often critical
to the life, freedom, health, civil rights, home and family of our clients.
Attorneys are frequently entrusted with the life savings and investments of
our clients. We become the guardians of the mentally deficient and the potential
saviors of the accused. We are fiduciaries, confidants, advisors and advocates.
As the Court of Appeals of Maryland has pointed out, the profession of law "has
been infused with and, in a sense, been a trustee for, the public interest."
With so much new information to be absorbed and such awesome responsibilities
to be borne on behalf of our clients, doesn't it make sense to require us,
as lawyers, to meet an annual minimum requirement to stay abreast of new developments
in our field?
One factor in considering whether lawyers should have mandatory continuing
legal education (MCLE) is a look at the continuing educational requirements
for other licensed professions and occupations in Maryland. What do all of
the following have in common?
Accountants, acupuncturists, architects, audiologists, bail bondsmen,
certified interior designers, chiropractors, dental hygienists, dentists,
dietician-nutritionists, educators, electrologists, foresters, HVAC inspectors,
insurance producers, managers of health care facilities, mine foremen, mortgage
originators, morticians, nuclear medicine technologists, nurses, nursing
home administrators, occupational therapists, optometrists, pharmacists,
physical therapists, physicians, physician assistants, podiatrists, plumbing
inspectors, police officers, professional counselors & therapists, professional
land surveyors, psychologists, real estate agents, real estate appraisers,
real estate brokers, social workers, stationary engineers, veterinarians
All of the above are subject to a continuing professional education requirement.
This broad, yet incomplete, list evidences that in Maryland almost every other
profession, and many skilled occupations, believe that service to the public
requires practitioners to keep up with the latest developments to help themselves
maintain minimum standards of competency. In this light, it seems appropriate
to quote U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, who commented that
we lawyers are "more casual about qualifying the people we allow to act as
advocates in the courtroom than we are about licensing electricians."
Another factor to consider is how other jurisdictions around the country
have addressed the issue of MCLE. Forty-three of the 50 states require lawyers
to fulfill an MCLE requirement in order to practice law within that particular
jurisdiction, according to the American Bar Association Center for Continuing
Legal Education. The vast majority of lawyers in this country must comply with
MCLE. Most actively practicing lawyers have been required to do so since the
late 1970s or 1980s. Notable recent additions to the list of MCLE states include
California and Pennsylvania (1992), New York (1998) and Illinois (2006). The
shrinking list of MCLE holdouts now includes only Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey (which, while it has no regular MCLE requirement,
does mandate a three-year, 46-hour skills & methods course for new admittees)
and South Dakota.
Finally, it is instructive to consider the position taken by Maryland's Judicial
Department with respect to continuing education of judges. In 1981, the Court
of Appeals of Maryland created the Judicial Institute of Maryland to provide
training for judges. Chief Judge Robert M. Bell issued an administrative order
in December 2000 requiring all appellate, circuit and district court judges
to participate in 12 hours of judicial education each year, through the Judicial
Institute. On September 18, 2006, Chief Judge Bell issued a new administrative
order bringing judges of the Orphans' Courts under the annual JCLE requirement
and specifically directing that administrative judges in each circuit and district
shall allow judges to be absent from court for up to two days to attend or
teach a program of the Judicial Institute.
Chief Judge Bell has repeatedly stressed the importance of building public
trust and confidence in Maryland's judicial system. His administrative order
of September 2006 states that the Maryland Judiciary "recognizes the value
of judicial education as a most effective means of enhancing the equitable
and efficient administration of justice." Can we not make the analogy that
the public's trust and confidence in the legal profession will increase when
Maryland lawyers, like Maryland judges, embrace an annual continuing legal
Perhaps the best response to the question raised in the first paragraph of
this article is to ask those who oppose MCLE: "Why?"
Steven VanGrack is the Past President of the Maryland
Institute for Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers, Inc. (MICPEL).