Continuing Legal Education That Makes Sense

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Despite the lack of compelling evidence that mandatory continuing legal education meaningfully contributes to lawyer competency, it’s now embraced by 45 of the 50 states. Over the past three years, provinces or law societies in Canada have also hopped aboard the mandatory CLE express.

The question is no longer why mandatory CLE?

The accelerated adoption rate of CLE rules has shifted the conversation from the usefulness of a mandatory requirement to the quality, cost and delivery (formats) of accredited programs. It includes the onerous accreditation and reporting process and the burdensome, even punitive lawyer compliance rules.

Typical MCLE process

A provider creates a course, runs it through the accreditation process in one or 40+ states with each state having their own set of rules and regulations. If the course gets accredited, attorneys who attend earn their mandatory credit hours.

Reporting requirements vary by state but many require providers to submit a record of attendance to each state’s CLE regulating body. The attorney must also report attendance or verify that they’ve completed the required credit hours.

Non-compliance can result in license suspension.

An enlightened model: mandatory but different

How about a system based on the philosophy that adult education is most beneficial when it is self-directed and intentional? A system where lawyers create their own CLE plan. That system exists. In Alberta, Canada.

Continuing legal education, or Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as it’s called in Alberta is mandatory, requiring all active lawyers to:

  • Annually prepare and make a record of a CPD plan in writing or electronic form
  • Make a declaration to the Law Society that they have made the CPD plan
  • Retain the record of the CPD plan for 5 years and produce it to the Law Society upon request

Eligible activities include courses, mentoring, writing legal articles and teaching law related subjects.

Self directed learning approach

In this self directed learning approach to professional development, each lawyer has the responsibility for the ongoing maintenance and improvement in the substantive, technical, practical or intellectual components of the practice of law.

There is no burdensome mandatory minimum requirement or course accreditation process. No ridiculous limitations on delivery formats or silly verification procedures. No burdensome reporting requirements. Nothing punitive.

The results are in

After two full years, Alberta has more than a 97% compliance rate. This, along with multiple survey results show an overwhelming adoption, acceptance and appreciation of the CPD planning philosophy.

What a radical idea — a continuing legal education and professional development system that treats lawyers as adults. Serious, thinking professionals who take courses not to earn mandatory credits, but because they want to learn.

The CLE system in the US could do with some radicalization.

Huge thanks to Paul Wood, Executive Director of the Legal Education Society of Alberta and Susan Billington, Policy and Program Counsel at the Law Society of Alberta for graciously providing  me with insight into the Alberta CPD system.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/heycoach/1197947341/)

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