after its inception, the State Bar's continuing education for lawyers program is under
scrutiny by the legislature, the Supreme Court and the bar itself.
most of whom are required to complete 36 hours of education over a three-year period, have
become increasingly vociferous about their dissatisfaction and their complaints appear to
have gained a foothold.
"It seems to
be a blip on the radar screen that's getting bigger and bigger," said Andrew
Guilford, a vice president of the bar's board of governors who recently proposed a review
of the program. "That's not surprising, since it's the area where the bar touches its
members most frequently."
Although the vast majority of attorneys continue to educate themselves and stay current
with developments in the law and their practice area, objections include the number of
hours required, cost and availability of programs, the quality of the content, exemptions
for some groups, and the bias and substance abuse requirements.
"I think the most common objection is that it's simply a cumbersome tool designed
to make money for providers," Guilford said, although he believes that is not the
Lawyers had taken voluntary continuing legal education courses for years when the
legislature, seeking to bolster lawyer competence, passed a law in 1989 requiring the bar
to draft a mandatory program. The Supreme Court approved the minimum continuing legal
education (MCLE) program the following year.
The bar has long maintained that continuing education is a professional necessity for
active lawyers, asserting that it enhances competence and protects the public. MCLE
supporters point often to a 1995 RAND Corp. survey conducted for the so-called Futures
Commission which found that 68 percent of those questioned ranked CLE seminars among the
top five most important services offered by bar sections and committees.
The commission also admonished the bar to try to improve the quality of MCLE courses,
noting the "dubious value of some program offerings."
Bar president Raymond C. Marshall says he believes the overwhelming majority of
California lawyers believe in continuing education and think it's something lawyers should
do. At the same time, he acknowledged widespread dissatisfaction with the program.
"I would have to say I think MCLE is of great value," Marshall said. "I
would also say if we're going to have it, it needs to be fixed."
The Supreme Court was to revisit MCLE June 2, hearing arguments about its
constitutionality in the appeal of Warden v. State Bar. The First District Court of Appeal
found the MCLE program unconstitutional in April 1997, ruling that it "violates the
equal protection rights of mem-