A wooden gavel resting on a white table.

March 28, 2024 - by MSBA

MCLE Update: Supreme Court of Maryland Holds Open Meeting, Approves Further Evaluation and Consideration of MCLE Adoption and Implementation in Maryland

 On March 27, 2024, the Supreme Court of Maryland held an Open Meeting to discuss and vote on the threshold question of (1) whether Maryland should continue as a non-mandatory CLE jurisdiction or (2) whether the Court should continue to meet to consider how mandatory CLE (if adopted) should be implemented. The justices voted 4-3 in favor of moving beyond Maryland’s status quo as a non-mandatory CLE jurisdiction in favor of further meetings to evaluate and consider mandatory CLE requirements and implementation. The vote did not result in a final decision about whether to adopt MCLE in Maryland, as that will occur after future meetings and additional input from the legal community.

The Open Meeting follows the Fall 2023 release of a Final Report and Recommendations from the Judiciary’s Workgroup to Study Mandatory Continuing Legal Education in Maryland. The Workgroup included two representatives from MSBA and considered other state MCLE models as well as the drawbacks and benefits to a mandatory education program in Maryland. Following the report’s release, MSBA’s Board of Governors voted to remain neutral on the question of MCLE adoption in Maryland and created an MCLE Rapid Response Task Force that collected member feedback and provided comprehensive written and oral comments to the Maryland Judiciary in November and December of 2023.

Justices Discuss Public Responses and Important Considerations Related to MCLE Adoption

The March 27 meeting was the first time the Supreme Court of Maryland convened as a group to discuss the Workgroup’s report and public feedback. Chief Justice Fader described continuing legal education as a “basic and essential component of maintaining competence in a profession” and emphasized the responsibility of the Supreme Court of Maryland, serving as the regulatory body for the legal profession, to ensure that Maryland attorneys are competent and qualified to represent clients. He stressed the importance of addressing and alleviating the burdens of proposed MCLE on attorneys who would be most affected by cost and time constraints, particularly solo and small firm practitioners, before any MCLE program would be implemented in the state. He thanked the Judiciary’s Workgroup for its detailed Report and recognized the efforts and feedback of MCLE stakeholders, including individual attorneys, bar associations, and pro bono organizations. The Chief Justice noted that many responses did not take a position on MCLE adoption but discussed details and considerations should such a program be implemented.

Chief Justice Fader took time to review a breadth of differing positions offered to the Court during the feedback period of the Workgroup’s research.

  • Public comments that were neutral on MCLE adoption included
  • advocating for an inclusive, attorney-friendly model, 
  • allowing pro bono hours to count towards required hours, 
  • providing flexible reciprocity, 
  • crediting in-house training, 
  • providing ethics training from bar counsel at no cost, 
  • creating a simple accreditation process, particularly for bar associations, legal organizations, and government entities, 
  • reduced requirements for those in limited practice or semi-retired status, 
  • re-evaluating the program after a certain number of years, and 
  • allowing teaching hours to count towards required hours.

Public responses opposed to MCLE included 

  • a lack of empirical evidence from mandatory MCLE states about the success of the program,
  • financial and time burdens, especially for small and solo firm attorneys, 
  • burden on semi-retired attorneys, and
  • opposition to the DEI and mental health requirement. 

Supporters of MCLE shared the following benefits: 

  • maintaining standards of practice in the profession, 
  • avoiding public misconduct, 
  • improving public perception, and 
  • providing legal services through pro bono work.

During the Court’s discussion, other justices shared the benefits of low-cost bar association CLE programs in improving competency, professionalism, and collegiality within the profession. They noted that although there may not be empirical evidence to show the benefit of MCLE programs, the practice of law is a privilege and many intangible benefits result from continuing education. Justice Eaves discussed the importance of “all lawyers having an opportunity to weigh in and create a program that will enhance our profession.” Some justices expressed concerns for the financial impact on solo and small firm attorneys in fulfilling an MCLE mandate as well as the lack of empirical evidence to show the value of MCLE in jurisdictions with a continuing education mandate.   

MSBA Will Continue to Support Attorneys as the MCLE Discussion Continues

As the Court continues to consider how mandatory CLE may be implemented in Maryland, MSBA will continue to advocate for attorneys in Maryland by seeking implementation of an innovative, attorney-friendly model that supports flexible and inclusive reciprocity and accreditation standards that eases the burden on attorneys. MSBA supports the inclusion of both traditional CLE and the many high-quality bar association programs and activities that many MSBA members are already engaged in to increase their proficiency, general knowledge, and connection to the profession.

MSBA members will not incur any additional cost to fulfill MCLE requirements, as MSBA is committed to providing members enough free CLE to meet any requirements implemented by the Supreme Court of Maryland. MSBA will continue to invest in providing high-quality, accredited programs across multiple practice areas, regardless of whether an MCLE requirement begins. MSBA will support members through digital, instant access to hundreds of accredited CLE programs and provide assistance in understanding and meeting any MCLE reporting requirements. 

Over the last five years, MSBA has more than doubled the number of its annual CLE programs with nearly 200 one-hour programs a year; heavily diversified its CLE library to include more practice areas; and improved access to CLE by hosting both virtual and in-person programs.  In addition, MSBA offers a large number of programs that would fulfill the specified subject areas of Ethics & Professionalism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and Health & Wellness.  MSBA will ensure that CLE remains affordable by continuing to include unlimited digital CLE of 90-minutes or less with membership.

MSBA is committed to working with local and specialty bars throughout Maryland to partner in providing accredited CLE or assisting other bar associations in understanding accreditation standards and compliance requirements.

Finally, MSBA will continue to support the Maryland Judiciary in its consideration of MCLE and the potential adoption and implementation of MCLE. With connections to many of the surrounding MCLE jurisdictions and knowledge of most MCLE models, MSBA staff, volunteers, and leaders are able and willing to share their expertise and recommendations to develop and implement an MCLE model that achieves the goal of elevating the legal profession across Maryland.

MSBA will provide regular updates to members on any further developments related to MCLE in Maryland. Please reach out to MSBA with any questions or feedback related to MCLE at [email protected]