A large majority of MSBA members oppose a proposed Mandatory Continuing Legal Education requirement. When MSBA sent an electronic MCLE survey to its membership in late October to garner member views on mandatory CLE, 70 percent of those responding opposed MCLE, while 30 percent favored it. Findings of the member poll were presented to MSBA’s Board of Governors on November 17, and the Board voted to oppose a MCLE requirement, echoing the views of MSBA members.
However, although a strong majority of the 4,312 members responding to the electronic survey voiced clear opposition to a mandatory CLE rule, a substantial majority support and participate in CLE. One member expressed the sentiment of many, stating “I highly support CLE but do not believe it should be mandatory.” By wide margins, members believe MCLE will not enhance lawyer competence or legal professionalism in Maryland.
Today, CLE remains voluntary in Maryland, and as disclosed in the MSBA member survey, it is overwhelmingly favored by the membership. According to the poll, most attorneys consider CLE to be an effective way to sharpen their legal expertise, keep up-to-date on emerging new laws, polish their practical business skills and learn about new trends in ethics and conflicts of interest. Respondents also found CLE valuable in keeping them abreast of constant changes in their substantive legal fields, which benefits their daily practice of law.
Several themes resonate from MSBA’s member survey, and by far the strongest is Maryland attorneys’ support of CLE, just not mandatory CLE. As one member emphasized, “Maryland has one of the best bar associations in the country, and I attribute this to no MCLE. As a result, lawyers go to and participate in CLE because they want to actually learn, not because they are being forced to.” When forced to attend MCLE, most respondents felt attorneys are there in body but not mind or spirit, and are most often focused on their “Blackberries”, proving a distraction to those wanting to learn.
Another enlightening trend is that, even in today’s high-tech market, 66 percent of the respondents still prefer live programs as their optimal CLE learning environment. Self-study was the second CLE option, at 58 percent, and online live webinars came in at 42 percent. According to survey findings, the majority of Maryland attorneys stay professionally current by attending live CLE programs and engaging in self-study.
Maryland is only one of five states where CLE is still voluntary for lawyers, and many MSBA members are also admitted to states in which CLE is mandatory. It is interesting to note that of the 23 percent of respondents admitted to states with such requirements, 56 percent did not believe they had benefited from the requirement. Member comments proved insightful. With respect to MCLE’s impact on professionalism and legal competence, members wrote:
- professionalism is in a person, not a classroom;
- attending classes does not make you a professional;
- if the lawyer is a professional, the lawyer is already taking CLE to maintain expertise
- competent and conscientious lawyers keep up with developments in their field without being told to do it.
Another theme emerging from the poll was a sense that there are already too many mandatory regulations on Maryland attorneys. “Our profession is tremendously over-regulated; there are enough mandatory requirements now,” stated one respondent. Another summed it up by stating, “As a lawyer, I am already professionally obligated to remain current. We are subject to far more responsibilities than other professions, and I believe the vast majority of us take these responsibilities seriously.”
The 12-question survey addressed member views on MCLE in Maryland, MCLE for those admitted in states requiring it, attorneys’ current CLE activity and delivery preferences, MCLE’s impact on lawyer competence and professionalism and basic demographics. In terms of the latter, the majority of the respondents were solo and small firm practitioners, reflective of MSBA’s membership. Most of the respondents hailed from the state’s larger jurisdictions, where there are bigger concentrations of members, such as Baltimore City and Montgomery County.
MSBA conducted this online CLE survey to obtain member views on MCLE so MSBA’s Board of Governors could adopt an official position and thereby accurately convey its members’ views to Maryland’s Judiciary. An MCLE requirement is now being considered by the Judiciary’s Commission on Professionalism, headed by Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, Court of Appeals of Maryland. One of the Commission’s subcommittees, the MCLE Committee, recently supported a mandatory CLE requirement. The Judiciary traditionally seeks input from MSBA. The MCLE proposal is slated to go before the full Commission in January 2010.