New CLE Credit Requirements Proposed
by Michael Decker
Colorado may soon be joining a handful of other states in enacting more extensive continuing legal education requirements for attorneys. For the last 17 years, Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 260 has required Colorado attorneys to earn 45 general credits of continuing legal education every three years.
However, if a recent recommendation from the Board of Continuing Legal Education is adopted by the Colorado Supreme Court, the number of credits required for each three-year period will more than double.
According to board member John Castino, "lack of attorney expertise is the single greatest cause of malpractice complaints nationwide."
Castino cites several studies from other states that support the conclusion that a greater amount of continuing legal education results in fewer reported attorney complaints and an increase in overall client satisfaction.
One interesting aspect of those studies is the apparent fact that client satisfaction increases regardless of whether the client was ultimately successful with their case or matter.
"The studies show that people are willing to accept the results as long as they are confident that their attorney was representing them adequately, and continuing legal education helps attorneys to reassure clients that their representation is up to current standards," Castino said.
Opponents of the proposal argue that the increase in cle requirements will leave little time for attorneys to actually represent their clients. They note that Colorado’s current requirements are among the nation’s highest. Under the new proposal, Colorado would require each attorney to complete 120 hours of continuing education every three years. Of those credits, 25 would need to be in the area of ethics. Although the proposed limit is high by national standards, at least three states—Alabama, New Jersey and Oregon—have the same or higher requirements.
Critics also believe that the increase in cle requirements will be particularly difficult for attorneys to meet now that the board will no longer be allowing attorneys to earn cle credit in home-study courses. After April 1, 2001, attorneys must either teach or attend a live seminar in order to earn cle credits. Solo practitioners like Katherine Puckett predict that the combination of new requirements will hit them the hardest.
Puckett says that she "will literally have to close my office for a week or more per year just to earn these credits." Puckett actually agrees with the increased requirements in principle but thinks that, "Colorado should allow attorneys to use available technologies like tapes, CDs and videos to keep up-to-date on the law without having to sacrifice hours from the workday."
Castino understands the criticisms but believes that ultimately practitioners (and their clients) will realize the benefits of the increased requirements and live-seminar attendance.
He says that, "many attorneys simply order tapes and listen to them in their cars. They go for years without the opportunity to ask questions of a presenter or fellow attendees. Teaching professionals will tell you that there is simply no substitute for the classroom as a learning tool."
Despite challenges from some local practitioners, the board unanimously recommended the new cle requirements to the Supreme Court in March. Although there is no requirement that the court adopt the board’s recommendations, past recommendations have usually been adopted with three to six months from the time they are made. Notice of any change in the requirements is typically given to all practitioners within six months to a year prior to their effective date, specifically April 1.