Looking intently at his latest class of fresh-faced criminal procedure students, Prof. William F. ("Duke") Crowley growled that the evidence in the case suggested the defendant was guilty. So guilty that after sentencing, "they'll have to shoot daylight to him with a cannon." Those of us in the class howled with laughter. Duke never cracked a smile.
All these years later, I remember that teaching moment like it was yesterday. But, oddly enough, I can barely recall the online CLE seminar I took in December. How memorable and effective continuing legal education in Washington will be is now under debate.
In 2013, the WSBA Board of Governors chartered an MCLE Task Force to peer into the future of continuing legal education and to make recommendations to revise Admission and Practice Rule (APR) 11. The effort was led by Michele Radosevich, past WSBA president and an active member of the King County Bar Association. She recently presented a summary of the Task Force's recommendations to KCBA's Board of Trustees.
The Task Force describes its recommendations as "cutting edge and forward thinking." By taking action now, the new rules would "address the educational and training needs of the membership" so that "the lawyers of Washington will be better equipped to maintain their competence and professionalism which in turn serves to better protect the public in the long run."
Many of the proposed changes may well benefit our profession as we grapple with the new realities of practice in the 21st Century. However, the Task Force's proposal to deep six the requirement for live CLE credits has raised significant concerns about whether this change is cutting edge or a dumbing down of the profession.
In a memo prepared for KCBA's Board of Trustees, our CLE Advisory Committee Chair Jason Hanson addressed the proposed elimination of live CLE credits. "As far as we could tell, the MCLE Task Force report did not indicate that it was based on soundly based adult education principles," Hanson said. "There is strong educational value in human interaction as part of an organized system of learning. The current MCLE regulations encourage a balance among in-house, audio-visual and traditional live formats, but the proposed MCLE regulations do not."
Under today's MCLE rules, Washington lawyers are required to earn half of their CLE credits by attending live courses or - importantly - via live webcasts. The Task Force argues that this imposes a burdensome cost on lawyers who face travel expenses and "time away from home and office." Really?
Being sensitive to the economic challenges facing attorneys is admirable. However, we are talking about an average of 7.5 hours of live CLE each year - hardly an unreasonable burden for the privilege of maintaining a license to practice law. And, again, the current rule allows members for whom travel is a burden to attend by webcast.
Some might see the objections raised by KCBA as technophobic. After all, if we can shop for golf clubs and play Scrabble from the comfort of our computers, why do we have to schlep to a CLE presentation? Rather than the hand-wringing of Luddites, the debate in our board meeting centered on whether the nominal benefits of dispensing with the live CLE requirement justifies the potential loss to our profession (and ultimately the public) of quality learning experiences.
The Board's concerns are shared by the deans of the Seattle University and University of Washington law schools. They both question the pedagogical soundness of this proposal.
A final concern of KCBA could be considered parochial by some. For decades, KCBA has produced top-notch legal seminars. During 2014, approximately 2,400 lawyers seeking to broaden and deepen their professional abilities attended our CLE programs. If the live CLE requirement is eliminated, the Board sees a dive toward the bottom of cheap and easy, at-your-desk programs. In that battle, KCBA may see national, for-profit providers dominate local, not-for-profit programs like ours.
No one questions that the MCLE Task Force approached its review and amendment of APR 11 with a sincere desire to improve the existing rules governing continuing legal education. But the proposal to send the live credit requirement to the dust bin of history is not well founded in best practices for learning. It sacrifices the advancement of the profession for illusory economic benefits. And it potentially damages KCBA's CLE program.
As Duke would have said, that recommendation should be sent to where they'll have to shoot daylight to it with a cannon.
KCBA President Steve Rovig is a principal with Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S. where his practice emphasizes commercial real estate. Rovig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-470-7620.