More classes for lawyers proposed Bill would require 30 hours every 2 years

January 13, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

When should an attorney's classroom education end? On the last day of law school or the last day in law practice? It's a hotly debated question among attorneys, and one that a Republican state senator has joined by sponsoring legislation to make legal education courses mandatory for Maryland's 22,000 lawyers.

To keep their licenses, lawyers would be required to complete 30 hours of legal courses every two years, according to the bill submitted by Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican. The bill stipulates that four of those hours must be spent studying legal ethics and professionalism.

About 40 states currently require lawyers to take mandatory education courses. Mr. Madden said such requirements for lawyers in Maryland are overdue.

"Continuing education assures the public better informed, up-to-date attorneys," the senator said. "Virtually every other professional in Maryland requires some form of it, from CPAs to barbers to insurance agents."

If Mr. Madden's bill succeeds, it might supplant other efforts in Maryland to implement mandatory continuing legal education.

Oversight of most issues related to legal practice in Maryland falls to the state's highest appellate court, the Court of Appeals. In the past, the court has resisted overtures to institute mandatory continuing legal education. It could consider the matter again soon, however, in light of an endorsement of mandatory education last year by the Maryland State Bar Association.

That is, if the General Assembly does not act first.

"In part, the issue here is whether the legislature should be doing this or it's something that should be left to the Court of Appeals," said Daniel M. Clements, a partner at the Baltimore firm of Israelson, Salsbury, Clements & Bekman who served on the state bar's continuing legal education committee.

"Basically, I agree with the state bar's position that the Court of Appeals should be dealing with this. But they haven't, so I don't have an enormous philosophical problem with the legislature looking at it seriously," Mr. Clements said.

In 1994, a state bar committee extensively studied continuing legal education, endorsed mandatory education and called for 30 hours of instruction over two years. Its plan would permit up to 15 of those hours to be completed in self-study, with videos or home courses.

The Court of Appeals would randomly survey attorneys under the state bar plan, asking them to list courses they have taken. Attorneys who had not completed their required courses would be subject to having their licenses suspended. Lawyers who misrepresented their course hours would be in for stiffer penalties, including possible disbarment.

Opponents of mandatory education for lawyers argue that it's counterproductive to compel lawyers to attend classes. They say a mandatory plan would needlessly burden lawyers, cost money and give few benefits to clients.

Lawyers who support the idea suggest that courses would help lawyers keep up with legal trends and give the public greater confidence in the profession.

Mr. Clements said a number of legislators share Mr. Madden's concerns. "Marty's not alone," he said. "Others there have expressed their chagrin to me about lawyers not having mandatory [continuing education]. It may cause the Court of Appeals, which likes to maintain its prerogative in this area, to act more expeditiously, if it decides to act at all."

Mr. Madden's bill also includes alterations in the state's Attorney Grievance Commission, which investigates complaints against lawyers and seeks sanctions against those who violate the canons of ethical conduct. The bill would empower the governor to appoint a majority of commission members, a switch from the current system that gives that authority to the Court of Appeals.

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