|bers of the bar who are not exempted" from it.
The bar's fee bill,
pending before the legislature, also addresses MCLE by reducing the hours from 36 to 25,
with a simple requirement of four hours of ethics instruction, and eliminating the
exemption for retired judges.
It also would require the bar to provide efficient low-cost instruction to meet all
self-study requirements at $15 per hour or less by July 1, 2000.
Practice management concern
Robert DeMeter, chair of the bar's MCLE committee, said although he does not oppose a
reduction in the number of hours required, he's concerned about the elimination of the law
practice management requirement. "Failing to manage your practice effectively is
occasionally what gets lawyers in trouble with discipline," DeMeter said. "I
think we all need a refresher course now and then."
DeMeter said a more useful change would be to require a relationship between an
attorney's practice area and the courses he or she takes.
MCLE can be both convenient and inexpensive, but that combination seems to be available
primarily to lawyers practicing in large metropolitan law firms. Larry Townsend, a San
Francisco attorney specializing in intellectual property matters, says he does not find
the requirements onerous, although he "can't recall having a conversation about
MCLE" with his colleagues.
A Marin County sole practitioner, Rita Gilmore, believes the required hours of study
should be increased. "I'm all for more regulation of lawyers," Gilmore said.
Another San Francisco lawyer said bluntly, "The idea is fine. The substance is 90
Bar president Marshall will appoint a commission soon to study the entire MCLE program,
a review which will compare the education requirements for attorneys with other
professions, and the California bar's program with those of other bars.
California is relatively comparable to other states. Forty require continuing education
for lawyers; 16 require 15 hours per year, 19 require at least 12 hours and four states
require 10 hours per year. Most also require some training in ethics or professionalism.
Exemptions in states requiring MCLE vary widely, with New Mexico and Vermont offering the
fewest (inactive lawyers are exempt in Vermont and New Mexico exempts by petition only).
Andrew Castellano, a South Pasadena lawyer who is a consultant to foreign governments
in the area of law reform (a specialty for which he notes there are no MCLE courses),
worries that the bar's study commission will be predisposed to retain MCLE. "The
scope of the review should not be limited in any way," he said. "One of the
options is whether the program should be eliminated."
Castellano said the threat of malpractice lawsuits and State Bar discipline are motive
enough for attorneys to educate themselves and are "more effective than some
amorphous objectives that are behind the creation of MCLE."
The law connection
Michael Leight, a business trial lawyer in Long Beach, favors total elimination of the
program. "MCLE is based on the false premise that lawyers . . . need this requirement
to practice law. That's simply not the case."
He says he's "flabbergasted" by the substance abuse and elimination of bias
requirements, which he characterizes as "baloney."
Mark Leinwand, an Agoura Hills lawyer who practices entertainment law, finds the entire
program a symbol of bar arrogance and is mystified by what he sees as its
"obsession" with a program "nobody wants."
Like many critics, Leinwand is particularly offended by the substance abuse and bias
requirements which "assume we are all bigots and junkies. Why are we treated as a
child in constant need of correction?"
Guilford, who also doesn't like the special requirements, said he has found MCLE to be
helpful and thinks it's difficult to oppose education.
The red tape worries
But he worries about what he calls "red tape and bureaucratic excesses" as
well as the expense and the amount of time busy lawyers must spend to meet the
"Do we want to keep layering on more requirements?" he asked. "We have
to be cautious about the burdens we place on our lawyers."