after former Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the 1998 fee
bill, concluded that although many attorneys complain about aspects of
the program, it is pointless to consider canning it given recent
affirmations of MCLE by the courts and the state legislature.
And despite two unsuccessful court challenges of
the program's constitutionality, the commission said, lawyers in
general believe mandatory education is a good thing.
"It's simply time to put the issue behind
us," said David Heilbron, commission chair and former State Bar
Heilbron reported the study's findings last
month, noting that of 40 states which have CLE requirements,
California's are the lowest.
The nationwide average is 12 to 15 hours
annually, and since state legislators last year reduced the number of
required hours in California from 36 to 25 - 8.33 per year -
attorneys here share roughly the same educational requirements as some
pest-control operators. All other professions require more hours -
in many cases much more. Accountants complete 40 hours of continuing
education annually, barbers take 15 and real-estate brokers clock
"It would be cavalier, if not shocking, were
California lawyers excused from the obligation to continue to learn,
while all those other California professionals, and most lawyers
across the land, are required to discharge it," the 22-page report
Of the 601 lawyers who participated in the
telephone survey, 60 percent preferred 25 or fewer MCLE hours over
three years. The commission, however, decided the number should fall
between the current and former requirements at 30 hours.
In a nod to the legislature's reduction,
Heilbron said the suggestion is symbolic: The commission will not ask
the bar's board of governors to pursue increasing MCLE hours when
the report is submitted June 9.
The commission agreed with attorneys'
contention that exemptions to MCLE are divisive and should be
eliminated, but this acknowledgment is also symbolic since exemptions
are legislated, Heilbron said.
In a 1999 California Bar Journal poll, 67 percent
of respondents said they believe MCLE should not be mandatory. So the
commission was surprised to learn that 51 percent of its respondents
described the state's MCLE program as good or excellent.
Complaints about MCLE centered around exemptions
to the program and some of its subject requirements, resentment the
report largely attributed to attorneys' independent - or stubborn
- nature. "Nobody
likes a program that tells them they have to do anything," Heilbron,
said. "In particular, lawyers don't like to be told what to do."
Heilbron said the key to gaining more confidence
in the program is to improve the quality of courses, which now "are
not deep enough, detailed enough, or at a level high enough."
Respondents generally gave highest marks to live
courses, but also noted they are the most costly.
The report suggests creating a central listing on
the State Bar's web site that includes the cost of courses and
requires providers to include their skill level - beginner,
intermediate or advanced.
In revamping subject matter, the commission met
bar members halfway by agreeing that the substance abuse and stress
reduction requirement should be axed, but decided bias education must
"It would be just a great mistake to eliminate
that requirement now, because although we'd like to think that the
bias does not exist, it does," Heilbron said. "We think it would
be a very untimely and untoward message to send."
He acknowledged that substance abuse is a
substantive issue, but agreed with those polled that MCLE is not the
best way to combat the problem. The report recommends substance abuse
courses be eliminated as a requirement, but attorneys who choose to
can still obtain credit for them.