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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Panel getting closer to sending new training requirements to Board of Trustees

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

A State Bar task force is in the home stretch of developing a plan to implement sweeping new training requirements for incoming lawyers.

The proposed elements would include 15 units of practice-based competency training in law school, 50 hours of pro bono or reduced fee legal services during and after law school and 10 hours of competency training MCLE (Minimum Continuing Legal Education) in the first year of practice.

The 30-member Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform Phase II has held six public meetings since December to determine exactly how the recommendations would be put in place. On June 11, Chairman Jon B. Streeter said the panel hopes to send a draft to the Board of Trustees by September, although he noted the timeline could be extended if necessary.

The plan requires not only board approval, but also proposed changes to rules and regulations that must go to the California Supreme Court or the Legislature. That makes it difficult to predict when any new rules would go into effect. The group originally hoped to phase in the requirements starting in 2015 with the new MCLE courses, but Streeter said the timeline could change. He added that the 15-unit requirement would not be imposed on students who have already begun law school.

Also, the panel appeared likely to exempt from the 15-unit requirement prospective bar members who have practiced full-time in other states for at least one year, as well as foreign lawyers who earn a Master of Laws (LLM) degree in the United States as opposed to a Juris Doctor (JD).

Academics on the task force said the new requirements will force law schools to change their curriculum to include more emphasis on putting legal concepts into practice.

“You shouldn’t underestimate what change this is going to bring,” said task force member UC Berkeley School of Law Associate Dean Charles D. Weisselberg, who developed the school’s clinical education program.

The American Bar Association is also moving toward requiring six units of practical training. Courses that qualify for the ABA practical skills requirement would also satisfy California’s mandate.

The plan will include a description of the types of coursework that would qualify for the competency skills credit. The plan should be detailed enough to make it clear what is expected, but not so strict that it wouldn’t give law schools the flexibility to be creative, Streeter said.

“The innovation is going to come from the law schools,” he said. “It will be a trust but verify model, just like MCLE compliance.”

Although some law schools have expressed concern about the cost of complying with the new requirements, the task force heard from a Washington University School of Law professor who said there is no statistical link between the quantity of clinical courses at law schools and the cost of tuition.

The task force is scheduled to meet again July 28.

In addition to the admissions task force, the trustees have created the Discipline Standards Task Force and the Civil Justice Strategies Task Force to make recommendations to the board.

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