So here it’s almost year-end with so much to update and so little time, including that the Arizona State Bar’s ‘pay to play’ CLE precertification scheme was unexpectedly voted down by an otherwise management-submissive board of governors.
Conveniently overlooking that it started the commotion in the first place but acting now as though members suddenly mattered, here’s the Bar’s self-serving announcement, “After hearing comments from members and CLE providers, the Board of Governors has voted unanimously not to create a process for precertifying CLE providers.”
“Fanciful benefits” of CLE
But in place of other updates and since there’s a few more days before the last day of the year, let me instead here applaud colleague James C. Mitchell’s boldly trenchant move to petition to amend Arizona Supreme Court Rule 45. This is the rule that sets out the Court’s mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements.
Arizona lawyer Mitchell petitioned the state supreme court last month to require an acknowledgement on all continuing legal education advertising, to wit,“that the value of mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) is unproven and that the State Bar of Arizona has a financial interest in CLE marketing.” The acknowledgement would read as follows:
Rule 45. Mandatory Continuing Legal Education
(a) through (k) [No changes]
“(l) Advertising. Any advertisement for a continuing legal education program, product or service offered by or in conjunction with the State Bar of Arizona shall contain the following disclaimer:
“The State Bar of Arizona makes no representation that this program, product or service will improve any attorney’s competence or protect the public. No evidence proves that mandatory continuing legal education provides such benefits. The State Bar seeks revenue from CLE programs, products and services.
“The disclaimer shall appear conspicuously in capital letters in black type at least half the point size of the largest type in the advertisement, but in no event smaller than 12-point type.”
As he writes in his petition, “The statement would align claims for mandated CLE with available evidence of its value, acknowledging that CLE as practiced has little or no verifiable impact on attorney competence or public protection.
“This amendment is needed to create transparency in a significant program of law practice regulation. It would protect the public and lawyers themselves from deception by unproven claims of value in a mandated scheme of so-called continuing legal education, and protect the State Bar from potentially making or embracing false claims of value in products and services that it provides for money.”
Asking for “honest disclosure.”
Of course, the Court will never approve this petition and will most likely deny it without explanation. Still, kudos to Mr. Mitchell for daring so eloquently and so wittily to expose what most of us already knew, MCLE is bare of verifiable, substantiated argument.
Calling for truth-in-advertising and referring to the Bar’s claims about CLE content quality as “hyperbole,” he adds, “. . . until that joyous day when MCLE joins Smell-O-Vision films and Michael Dukasis’s tank in Terrible Idea Heaven, Petitioner simply urges this Court to order a policy of honest disclosure in advertising.
“None of the Bar’s hyperbole likely violates the prohibitions on false and misleading commercial speech in ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 44-1481(A)(1) (fraud-in advertising statute bars omission of material facts) or our own ER 7.1 (material omission prohibited in communication concerning a lawyer’s services). But should our State Bar really slither through the same loopholes that permit overselling automotive clunkers? Should our State Bar, when advertising, omit material facts in a way that no ethical advertising lawyer may? Should the State Bar claim a right to withhold essential information about CLE’s worth, namely the fact that none has been proven? Petitioner respectfully suggests that it should not. We’re lawyers. We should do better. We should get out front with the truth.”
To which I cheer, “Bravo, bravo, bravo!”
Read the entire petition here.
Photos: From The Æsop for Children, by Æsop, illustrated by Milo Winter at Wikimedia Commons, public domain;La publicite en France by trialsanderrors at Flickr Creative Commons attribution;hands clapping, Wikimedia Commons.