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Board asks for next steps in competency training plan

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

With the goal of better preparing new lawyers to enter the profession, the State Bar’s Board of Trustees gave the go-ahead last month to new competency training requirements as well as a committee that will decide how to carry them out.

Chaired by former State Bar President Jon Streeter, the new committee will develop a timeline and plan for implementing the three recommendations – competency training for new lawyers, a pro bono legal services requirement and additional Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) hours.

Streeter, who also chaired the task force that developed the new training requirements, told trustees prior to their Oct. 12 vote that the proposal dates back to 2011 and addresses the fact that more and more students coming out of law school have been unable to find a job. The Internet has made it easier for them to start solo practices, but they often lack mentors or fundamental knowledge, such as budgeting or running a law practice.

The competency training proposal calls for 15 units of practice-based, experiential course work or an apprenticeship equivalent during law school, 50 hours of legal services devoted to pro bono or modest means clients prior to admission or in the first two years of practice and 10 additional MCLE hours focused on law practice competency training. Under the current plan, the implementation committee would develop a roadmap to phase in the MCLE hours starting in 2015, the pro bono or modest means requirement in 2016 and the law school competency training in 2017.

“I must say in the course of what we have done there has been overwhelming support,” Streeter told trustees at their Oct. 12 meeting. But some people still have reservations about the proposal.

One concern is that implementing the new requirement will increase the already staggering cost of a legal education.

In one of roughly 30 letters the State Bar received commenting on the proposal, Pepperdine Law School student Levi Lesches wrote that it is “inherently injust” to require 50 hours of pro bono service.

“The cards are stacked so heavily against a legal education turning into a rewarding career, whether financially or emotionally, that merely suggesting additional bar passage requirements is akin to walking over to a soldier who is laying mortally wounded on a battlefield and asking him to do some good for his country,” Lesches wrote in a Sept. 4 letter to the board. “With the amount of unpaid hours law students already put in, the dismal career opportunities awaiting them at the end, it is plain wrong, if not offensive, to place restraints on those sparse opportunities that exist for law students to earn money while in school.”

But Streeter cited a study done by commenter Robert R. Kuehn, associate dean of clinical education at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, which found, among other things, that 90 percent of the American Bar Association-accredited law schools in California already have the capacity to ensure that their students can graduate with clinical education experience.

Streeter called the recommendations, “a fairly gentle nudge toward what law schools should be doing” to add value.

“What we are doing here in California has the attention of the entire country,” he added. “I think this is something you will be proud to be associated with in the future.”