The chair of a new task force that is examining whether to bring mandatory legal education to Connecticut ended his first meeting by handing out a homework assignment. "I want both sides of the argument to come in with some ideas that might allow us to bridge that gap," Superior Court Judge Elliot N. Solomon said.
Connecticut remains one of five states without mandatory, or minimum as it is now called, continuing legal education, and members of the state bar seem to be deeply divided on the issue. Solomon and 11 others were appointed by Chief Justice Chase Rogers to serve on the task force whose creation was suggested by the Superior Court Rules Committee.
The mission of the task force, which met in early October, is to try to determine what the costs and benefits of a statewide MCLE program would be, to seek ways to break the current impasse and then to go to the Rules Committee with recommendations.
It won't be easy. "Among the 11 people who were at that meeting, it broke down to six [for] and five [against]," Solomon said.
The task force is comprised of 10 lawyers from various practice groups and levels of experience. Solomon and Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis represent the bench. Other task force members declined to be interviewed, saying Solomon spoke for the group.
Earlier this year, the Rules Committee tabled the latest of several proposals for MCLE brought by the Connecticut Bar Association. The decision to delay action was based on concerns by opponents that the cost of MCLE would be too onerous for young lawyers and those in small firms.
Those concerns are still being raised, but Solomon isn't focusing on them. He wants to hear from other task force members about their own specific concerns and possible resolutions. He wants more information from task force members who support MCLE about how it might improve legal competence, performance and client service. Then he wants to hear "the best arguments on why we shouldn't have MCLE."
Solomon is well aware of the possibility that the task force might not be able to reach a consensus. Part of the equation, he said is timing. "Look, the Hartford County Bar is one of the oldest bar associations in the country, and they had 200 years to raise the issue of mandatory CLE. So raising it at a time when the economy is tough on everybody may not be the best time to raise it. I don't know where it's going, but we're going to have to do our research and report back to the Rules Committee."
The Connecticut Bar Association proposal would require lawyers to annually certify in writing that they had taken 36 hours of continuing legal education in the past three years. Some 21 of those hours would have to be in self-study, and the remainder from more formal classes and seminars. While the proposal was endorsed by the Connecticut Bar Association's House of Delegates, there was loud opposition by many over whether the cost of classes, which can run up to $900 each, would harm young lawyers and solo practitioners. Others said they wanted to see evidence that MCLE in other states has reduced the rates of attorney malpractice.