The Florida Bar
Bar Issue Papers
Continuing Legal Education Requirement
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II. Bar Position
IV. Facts and Statistics
There was much debate regarding imposing a mandatory requirement for continuing legal education on lawyers. Proponents argued that such a requirement would assist in ensuring lawyer competence and knowledge. Opponents argued that there is no evidence that mandatory CLE has accomplished its purposes where adopted or that it will accomplish its stated purposes in Florida. Of those with objections, most objected to the "mandatory" nature of the concept, not necessarily the goals or design. Outofstate members and government lawyers expressed concern regarding the financial burden imposed on them. Judges also expressed concern over the relevance of the Bar, not the Supreme Court, overseeing their participation.
II. Bar Position
A. American Bar Association
The American Bar Association model rules for minimum continuing legal education, adopted in 1988 and revised in 1989, resolves that:
- the ABA supports the concept of mandatory continuing legal education for all active lawyers;
- the ABA urges the various states that have not yet adopted such a program to seriously consider its adoption;
- the Standing Committee on Continuing Education develop materials and guidelines and otherwise assist the states in developing mandatory continuing education programs.
In 1996 the Standing Committee Task Force on CLE and Technology recommended amendments, which afford MCLE credit for technology-based CLE delivery modes. The House of Delegates adopted the amendments in August 1996.
In February 2002 at the ABA Midyear Meeting, the standing committee's Report with Recommendation seeks a Resolution urging all MCLE jurisdictions to fully accredit all technology-based CLE formats, in keeping with the trend toward widespread accreditation.
This model rule was last amended in February 2004 to recommend a requirement for the completion of programs related to racial and ethnic diversity and the elimination of bias in the profession.
B. The Florida Bar
The Florida Bar Board of Governors adopted CLER on the basis it would upgrade the profession and place Florida among the growing number of states recognizing the need for mandatory CLE. The legal profession would join other professions in Florida that require continuing education. Since the requirement was designed to not be burdensome, it is the most feasible of alternatives for promoting competency.
In accordance with Rule 610.3(b), every member shall complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of approved CLE every three years (effective January 1, 2017, it increases to 33 credit hours) -- five of the hours must be in the area of legal ethics, professionalism, mental illness awareness or substance abuse. The five hours are to be included in, and not in addition to, the regular 30hour requirement.
Exemptions from the requirement are allowed for: active military service; undue hardship; those nonresident members not delivering legal services or advice on matters or issues governed by Florida law; inactive members; and members of the judiciary who are subject to a separate requirement. Members exempted due to military service or nonresident status whose exemption terminates prior to the end of their reporting period for which the exemption was granted will be required to complete the requirements based on the prorata portion of the reporting period for which they were not exempt.
Approval of outofstate CLE activity is liberally granted. Outofstate CLE providers, state and local bar groups, and other sanctioned nonprofit organizations are deemed "approved" sponsors under the Florida plan.
A. Florida Bar Involvement
Mandatory CLE in Florida had been discussed and considered many times over the years. The Board of Governors gave the concept tentative approval in September 1984 with a 24 to 7 straw vote. By a vote of 283 the Board approved a motion to appoint a task force to formulate details. Mandatory CLE for Florida was approved in concept by the governing board in May 1985, on a 1716 vote. The Board approved the rules in March 1986. The Supreme Court of Florida approved CLER on March 19, 1987 and requested certain modifications. These changes were made and CLER received final approval by the Supreme Court on July 16, 1987. The CLE requirement became effective January 1, 1988.
The Florida Bar prepares, on an annual basis, a program on audiotape to assist members with their CLER credits. In addition to local bars and law libraries in Florida, a copy of the tape is provided free of charge, upon request, to those outofstate bar associations (local or state) with Florida Bar members who desire the tapes to satisfy their Florida CLE requirement. These outofstate bar groups must also agree to provide the tapes to their Florida Bar members at no cost.
With mandatory CLE the Bar has not significantly increased the number of courses offered but continues to expand the distribution to make existing programs accessible to all lawyers in the state. Having local bars show videotapes of Bar programs in smaller towns will continue to be one solution. Sales of audio/video tapes of CLE programs is increasing at a steady pace.
B. Judicial History
The proposed CLE requirement rule (Rule 610) was filed with the Supreme Court of Florida in May 1986. Oral arguments were heard September 23, 1986. The court ruled originally on March 19, 1987 and finally on July 16, 1987.
In a brief filed in August 1986, the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges argued judges should be exempted from the requirement. However, if judges were mandated to take classes, the Conference claimed then the Supreme Court instead of the Bar should monitor judicial compliance. The brief says that "while the purpose of MCLE may be mandatory, the very nature of judges' duties, particularly at the appellate level, involves exposure to the latest changes in the law. . . . Judges are continually getting law briefs, writing opinions and studying opinions." The brief took no position on the overall Bar position. The final opinion of the Florida Supreme Court established a separate requirement for judges which is administered by the Supreme Court of Florida.
MCLE has been challenged, although unsuccessfully, by lawyers in court actions in other states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in 1983 affirmed a lower court ruling that a state could implement MCLE. The issue in the case: whether a state supreme court may constitutionally require attorneys to meet continuing legal education requirements. The court answered "yes."
"A state can require an attorney to take reasonable steps to maintain a suitable level of competency, so long as such requirements have a rational connection with the attorney's fitness or capacity to practice law." Verner v. State of Colorado, [716 F.2d 1352 (10th Cir. Colo., 183)].
- The Florida Bar CLE department offers 7585 courses per year.
- Over 400 live and/or videotaped showings are coordinated per year;
- CLE courses had over 14,000 attendees at 400 locations register each year;
- The Florida Bar Board of Governor's voted approving CLER, 1716;
- CLE is required by 39 other state bars;
- Most states that require CLE require more credits than the Florida plan (15 states require 15 hours per year, 20 states require at least 11 hours, 3 states require 10 hours per year, only California requires less at 8 hours a year.)
- Minnesota and Iowa were the first states to require CLE (1975 & 1976);
- Since the implementation of the CLE requirement in 1988, less than 1 percent of reportees are suspended for noncompliance.
- The general Bar membership attitude survey conducted in 1991 from a random sample of Florida Bar members indicated that 70 percent of respondents rate the CLE requirement effective while 30 percent rated the requirement not very effective at all;
- In the 1995 Membership Attitude Survey 83 percent of the respondents exceeded the required 30 hours of Continuing Legal Education within 3 years.
- In the 1997 Membership Attitude Survey the CLE's provided by The Florida Bar were rated second as the single most important benefit received by members.
- In the 1999 Membership Opinion Survey, 86 percent of respondents rated the quality of Bar CLE seminars as either excellent or good. Also, CLE seminars provided by The Florida Bar were rated as the single most important benefit received from the Bar.
- In the 2003 Membership Opinion Survey, 90 percent of respondents rated the quality of Bar CLE seminars as excellent or good. Also, 94 percent of respondents rated the CLE Programs provided by The Florida Bar desirable or highly desirable.
Prepared by The Florida Bar Department of Public Information, with assistance from the Division of Programs