Years ago in California, an adjunct law professor I met recalled a story he swore was true. He’d been to a house party where it seemed every other person he met there was a lawyer.
By the time, he’d met a woman who was herself, a lawyer, and who had then introduced her son and daughter-in-law standing next to her, as lawyers, he cracked, “It was time to go. There was a dog in the house and I was afraid that my next introduction would be to the dog and that he’d be a lawyer, too.“
The story is likely apocryphal. But with about a quarter million lawyers, California is the largest state bar association in the United States and barking lawyers aside, it’s doubtful Fido has yet to get a bar license. But as of the February 2010 bar exam pass rate, the number of active lawyers in California exceeds 228,000.
Making money from MCLE.
Moreover, there doesn’t appear to be a central clearinghouse for such market information, although I suspect it’s available like anything else, for a price. There’s likely an industry interest group, marketing association, or business consultancy only too happy to pitch you on how you too, can tap into the “booming” CLE provider business.
It’s well established, though, that continuing legal education is a worthwhile revenue source to a state bar’s bottom line. It’s usually just behind membership fees in percentage of contribution to bar revenues.
Look no further, for instance, than a 2009 Utah State Bar Operations Review Continuing Legal Education and the following paragraph: “In addition to live CLE, the Bar maintains an on-line library of CLE. Attorneys can watch these presentations on computer or download them to an MP3 player. The attorney purchases the CLE for approximately $31.50/credit hour and is e-mailed a password to access it. . .The Bar pays $1.50 of each credit hour to MCLE. This CLE comes from various Bars around the country and other CLE providers in addition to Bar programs. Some states charge as much as $120/credit hour for these programs.”
And finally, the same report makes the following recommendation: “The Bar should raise prices of CLE given the prices charged by national and private CLE providers. Other private CLE providers charge significantly more money for CLE presentations. If the Bar provides high quality CLE, it should be able to charge more than it currently charges.”
Challenges to state bar market dominance.
In the United States, depending on which online resource you tap into, it’s either 40, 42 or 47 states and territories that require lawyers to take continuing legal education classes to keep their licenses to practice law. One resource, which is likely more credible than others is the ABA’s list of Mandatory CLE State Requirements. Nebraska, Hawaii, Alaska and New Jersey are comparatively recent additions to the mandatory continuing legal education hit parade.
But challenges have emerged to the dominant position state bars have long enjoyed in dictating how and where members satisfy their requirements. Bars, however, do remain firmly in control as CLE-provider gatekeepers of who can qualify as providers and how much they have to pay for the distinction.
Decreasing bar revenues.
The 2009 State Bar of Nevada Financial Report, for instance, showed “CLE revenues decreased 26 percent ($263,832) due to a decrease in the number of seminars offered.” And the December 31, 2009 and 2008 State Bar of Arizona Financial Statement indicated a drop in CLE revenues of some 16% from 2009 to 2008 from $166,141 to $139,382.
Still, outliers remain. Connecticut and Maryland may still be the only jurisdictions not yet arm-twisting their bar members to take continuing legal education courses.
Conversely, Maryland Judge Lynne A. Battaglia and lawyer Paul Mark Sandler make the opposite argument. Unfortunately, they’re the same warmed-over ones all the other state bars have used to persuade their state supreme courts to mandate MCLE in their jurisdictions. Judge Battaglia and Mr. Sandler’s unpersuasive contentions can be read at “Why Maryland Needs Mandatory CLE“.
However, with all due respect, I did find one of the Marylanders’ enumerated ‘straw man’ arguments against MCLE especially laughable. Here’s their straw man set-up, “There is no evidence that MCLE improves the quality of attorney performance.”
To which they reply, “The short answer is that there is no evidence that MCLE does not improve lawyer competence. Common sense dictates that professionals who participate in CLE will learn and direct their learning to develop their character and expertise as lawyers.”
I thank the late Fr Michael J Kristovich SJ for teaching me logic a long time ago. The preceding argument is one of the better instances of trying to prove a negative. Just because a premise cannot be proven false, that is, that “there is no evidence that MCLE does not improve lawyer competence,” then the opposite must be fallaciously true. MCLE should be adopted in Maryland to improve lawyer competence. Thanks for the chuckles.
Granted CLE prices vary. They can run much higher and also much lower. Some jurisdictions have also had to reduce their prices in the face of competitive pressures from local bar associations and online providers.
And some lawyers for one reason or another annually exceed the minimum requirement, especially for example, those with certified specialist credentials. And if you shop around, you can reduce your CLE costs further, such as by locking in an annual fixed rate for considerably less than $750.
There’s also CLE reciprocity if you’re licensed in more than one jurisdiction. And counter-intuitively, the Arizona Bar exempts lawyers from CLE when they turn 70. So clearly, from the Arizona Bar’s own fiscal report, their CLE revenues don’t even come close to my guesstimated market projection.
Mooing for moolah.
But regardless of the actual size of the market, the reason I keep blogging about “Free CLE” is not just because I’m contrarian by nature. But it’s because I take offense at the endemic thinking found at some bar associations.
Take for example, the executive who wistfully opined that for some bar groups, CLE “used to be a cash cow.” See “Crossing the Finish Line…Eventually: More CLE than ever. . . .”
I beg to differ with such thinking. While no one daresay ‘pity the lawyers,’ the fact here is that for CLE providers, the “cash cows” are just us lawyers.