California Bar Journal
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Bar Journal poll shows 2 to 1 objection by lawyers to MCLE requirements
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half percent those that were satisfactory.

MCLE has come under increasing fire lately, as California attorneys become more vocal in their complaints about the 7-year-old program.

Bar President Raymond C. Marshall appointed a special panel last month to re-examine the program, shortly after the Supreme Court heard the bar's appeal of a lower court ruling that the program is unconstitutional because of the exemptions given certain groups of attorneys. (See story on Page 1.)

And the bar's fee bill, now pending in the State Assembly, includes a reduction of the total number of hours from 36 to 25 over three years. The measure also eliminates the exemption for retired judges (a notion supported by 73 percent of the survey's respondents), and, in a move supported by the survey results, junks the special requirements with the exception of four hours of ethics.

The unscientific Bar Journal poll drew responses from a cross-section of attorneys throughout the state, including government lawyers, in-house counsel, judges, and solo, small and large firm practitioners. The 2.5 percent response showed particular interest in the controversial subject; pollsters generally say a 1 to 2 percent response is considered excellent.

Overall, 66.7 percent of those who responded to the survey said continuing legal education should not be mandatory in California, and 33.2 percent said it should. Comments ranged from "Excellent program - keep it!!" to numerous descriptions of MCLE as a joke, farce, and waste of time and money. Some respondents asked for evidence that continuing education has made a difference, either by enhancing professionalism or reducing attorney discipline.

Asked if they would complete 36 hours of education every three years if it were not required, 60.6 percent of the respondents said yes, 36.8 percent said no and 2.6 percent did not answer. At the same time, 63 percent think the 36-hour requirement is too high.

The belief that good lawyers educate themselves and remain current in their field - without the burden of formal requirements - is a given for many lawyers like Elise Dee Beraru of Beverly Hills. "Since my first year in practice, I have always taken classes directly related to my field of practice," she said.

Added Robert S. Brazelton of Downey, "Professionalism, threat of malpractice suits or disbarment or suspension proceedings are adequate motivation for self-study."

Many attorneys feel courses should be free and dozens said many of the course offerings contain little of value.

"It's all PR and has created a cottage industry of worthless courses," complained Mark Stewart of Los Angeles.

"MCLE is great if you work for a large firm which provides free courses geared to its attorneys' needs," wrote another attorney. "Otherwise, it's an expensive waste of time, with the educational value of traffic school."

"More than half the courses I take are a waste of time and are simply taken in order to rack up the required number of hours," said Joanne Williamson, underwriting counsel with an insurance company in Los Angeles.

On the other hand, John Chessell of Riverside wrote, "I plan my vacations around MCLE across the entire country. Now, most of my vacations are partially or fully deductible. Washington state targets out-of-state attorneys on vacation with Friday and Saturday morning courses in Seattle and hotel packages."

There is widespread opposition (73 and 75 percent) to exemptions for retired judges and law professors, respectively, and a whopping 85 percent do not want legislators or other state officers to be free of the requirements.

Many who checked "no" to questions about exemptions wrote that any attorney who practices law, including ex-judges who engage in private judging and law professors who represent clients, should be required to fulfill the requirements.

In a fairly typical response, Riverside attorney Letitia Pepper wrote, "There should be no exemptions for any category of legal practitioner, except those who have retired."

"Why should some people be exempted from wasting their time and money," asked a San Francisco attorney.

The greatest vitriol from respondents was reserved for the special requirements of substance abuse, elimination of bias, ethics and law practice management. Nearly 47 percent of respondents did not answer the question or wrote that there should be no such requirements.

Of those who did respond, 46.4 percent favored courses on ethics, 18.6 percent wanted law practice management courses, and only 10.1 and 11.5 percent favored courses on substance abuse and elimination of bias, respectively.

"I am a woman and not addicted to drugs or alcohol," wrote one respondent. "The State Bar should not be ‘in loco parentis.'"

"The bar can't teach these (special requirements), just like you can't legislate them," wrote another.

Roger A. Pott of San Jose called the special requirements "ludicrous. It's time the bar stops treating us as uneducated kids, high on drugs and biased toward persons who are different in color, religion, etc."

On the other hand, said a Riverside attorney, the special requirements should be retained "because there are too many flakes in this business."

Others suggest incorporating the special requirements within courses on substantive law, and a Los Angeles attorney recommended free ethics and law practice management classes for lawyers just out of law school.

Despite the antipathy to MCLE, many attorneys support the program, particularly in terms of enhancing professionalism as well as image and credibility. Some even advocate stiffer requirements.

"The MCLE requirements are so minimal that their main effect is good PR for lawyers," said Eugenie Mitchell of Sacramento. "The longer you practice, the higher your requirements should be."

"I don't know why lawyers are so hostile to this program," wrote Margaret Crosby, an ACLU attorney in San Francisco. "I find the MCLE courses interesting and useful."