CLE, The Career Killer

From the New York Lawyer, presumably because there is no equivalent cyber-rag called the Chicago Lawyer:

CHICAGO — The Illinois commission that tracks attorney registration in the state has dropped nearly 600 lawyers from its list of those qualified to practice in the state, citing their lack of compliance with new continuing legal education requirements.

The Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, an agency of the Illinois Supreme Court, booted 587 active attorneys from the state’s so-called “master roll” this year when they failed to file the paper work showing they had completed 20 hours of certified legal training between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2008. The lawyers were officially removed from the roll after being sent three reminder letters late last year.

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough senate openings or cabinet posts to provide full employment for Illinois lawyers suffering from CRS, leaving the 587 to actually comply with this silly, yet basic, requirement to practice law.

On the practical side, Continuing Legal Education is one of those brilliant ideas dreamed up by a committee, whose groupthink allowed them to ignore every practical precept that might have saved the bar from another do-gooder burden.  In a perfect world, it would be wonderful for lawyers of all levels of experience to have a chance to tune-up their skills, catch up on the law and get current on the stuff they use daily to serve their clients.  Ah, what a wonderful world it would be.  If only…

CLE has turned into another crass business, with half the bar teaching basic skills to lawyers who were supposed to learn them before trying their hand at ruining the lives of real people.  Not that many CLE instructors are any better at it than they are, but we know more people so we can get our numbers up by catching a few CLE gigs rather than having to pay to be bored in the audience. An hour of CLE generally consists of one axiom and 12 war stories.  What a thrill, to listen to some old coot’s tales of doing the exact same thing everyone else does.

Yes, there are a few really good CLEs, with top notch speakers providing exceptionally useful information.  But they are few indeed, The vast majority are a total waste of time, the commercial marketers sales pitch notwithstanding.  Same for the specialty bar associations, for which CLE is a primary fund raiser.

All that said, lawyers could certainly use CLE.  Most haven’t the time or inclination to keep abreast of the law, being too busy trying to put food on the table and keep clients out of the clink to browse the law journals, parse the intricacies of 700 page decisions or read blawgs.  This was one of the original goals of the CLE mafia, though no one ever considered the likelihood of anyone actually providing the fodder for CLE utility.  And you can’t force people to put on, or go to, something that’s good for them.

But the true test of the right to practice law is the ability to correctly and timely fill out forms.  That 587 Illinois lawyers failed to file, or even respond, to registration notices demonstrates the inability to perform basic legal skills.  Not for their failure to satisfy the CLE requirements, but for their failure to send in their attorney registration forms (and presumably the accompanying check).  Epic fail.

There were about 2,000 lawyers out of compliance as of December, but the commission made phone calls to many of the lawyers to remind them about meeting the new CLE requirement, even after the letters were sent, said Jim Grogan, who is chief counsel for the commission. About 1,400 lawyers immediately came into compliance, but the remaining 587 probably include some lawyers who are still practicing while others may have moved, died or retired, he said.

“We were really wanting to be very careful this first go-around,” Grogan said.

Imagine all those lawyers missing the opportunity to hear Chief Counsel Grogan say brilliant things like “we were really wanting to…”  Yup, a true shame that such erudition was not imparted to the many lawyers in clear need of Grogan’s thoughts.

Of course, this being Illinois, there’s a strong possibility that all the 587 lawyers all long dead.  Then again, this being Illinois, the mere detail of death shouldn’t stand in their way of a long and profitable ongoing career in the law.  If they had only completed the forms.