Connecticut has now joined the majority of states requiring lawyers to complete continuing legal education (CLE) courses each year. The only thing I don't like about the requirement is that the Judges of the Superior Court have ordered us to do it. The judges, all members of the bar themselves, exempted themselves from the requirement.
I grazed my way through law school, an indifferent student, working full time and attending classes with decreasing frequency as the years passed. At the final examination in Labor and Employment Law, for example, a classmate remarked on seeing me at the final exam: "I didn't know you were in this class."
Truth be told, I wasn't. If I attended any of the lectures, I don't recall it. But I do recall reading the text, and a hornbook, and purchasing a set of class notes from someone who did attend. If memory serves, I still aced the course, and managed, against all expectations, to graduate with honors.
All of which is to say, I love CLE courses. Now that I've been in the trenches for a couple of decades, I can see where going to classes might have been helpful. You really can learn something if you are prepared to listen. It's taken me a lifetime to acquire that skill.
So off we go, required now to certify that we have taken at least 12 CLE hours per year. The requirement goes into effect on Jan. 1.
I've seen grousing already about the hardship the requirement will impose on small practitioners. The time and expense of attending a class or two will be onerous, we're told.
I'm not buying it.
The Connecticut regime can be satisfied any number of ways. You can, of course, attend a class for which payment is required. But it also appears as though you can listen to audiotapes, or engage in other forms of self-education. All that's required is that two hours each year be in the areas of legal ethics and professionalism.
Teaching a law school class can also get you off the hook.
Mandatory CLEs will be a boon to some. A good friend and I are already planning to offer a daylong course for a fee. We'll teach the vanishing art of trying a case, and cover such topics as storytelling, using the evidence code as a narrative device, cross-examination when the answers don't manner, and other dark arts of trial.
It's not at all clear to me just where we have to go to get our credentials approved to teach the class. I suppose the fact that my friend and I have tried a couple of hundred cases between us won't be enough for some folks. The problem with a regulated market is typically the regulators.
So I end where I began this column: Some folks are moaning about the new CLE requirements. It's one more thing to do in an economy where there already isn't enough time to do all that is required well. And the requirement comes from on high, from the robocracy, those lawyers without clients who've ascended to the bench, the demigods among us who think they know best.
I get a little queasy thinking about these would-be solons telling me what I must do to keep my license. But then, all at once, I feel a sense of relief. You see, one way to fulfill the CLE requirements is, according to the rules, to write for a legal publication.
Can it be that I am exempt because of this column, a column I write weekly, and have written weekly for more the 15 years? Something tells me that might be stretching the meaning of the rule a little, but, hey, isn't that what we lawyers do: identify a rule, test its application, and require those who make binding decisions to decide things?
It appears I've done my CLE for the week. This column took me 45 minutes to write. I've only 11 hours and 15 minutes more to go this year.