Share this on Twitter Share this on Facebook Share this on Linked In Share this by Email
MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Panel sorts out nuts and bolts of training rules for new lawyers

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

UC Berkeley School of Law Professor Eric L. Talley requires his students to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. That way when they enter corporate practice, they’ll more easily comprehend the world of business and finance in which their clients are steeped.

Skills such as the ability to put together a spreadsheet or decipher company financial statements are not routinely taught in law school, but can help a corporate lawyer’s ability to serve clients, Talley told the State Bar’s Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform last month.

The task force chaired by former State Bar President Jon B. Streeter grappled with the details of implementing new training requirements for lawyers in California to better prepare them for practice. They are:

  • 15 units of practice-based, experiential coursework or an apprenticeship equivalent during law school starting in 2017
  • 50 hours of legal services devoted to pro bono or modest means clients prior to admission or in the first year of practice starting in 2016
  • 10 additional MCLE (Minimum Continuing Legal Education) hours focused on law practice competency training or participation in a bar-certified mentoring program starting in 2015.

Talley recently surveyed transactional specialists to find out what competencies were most important for new lawyers in that practice area. He presented his findings March 10 to a breakout session of the task force focused on the law school requirement.

Transactional lawyers surveyed identified document drafting, professional ethics and fact development and analysis among the most important skills for practice.

One key question for the task force is defining the law school coursework that will qualify for the 15-unit requirement.

Those guidelines will have to be flexible enough to encompass changes in the legal profession, said UC Hastings College of the Law Professor Shauna Marshall, a member of the task force who led the breakout session. But they shouldn't be so broad that law schools can meet the requirement without changing their coursework.

“We are in a very dynamic state,” she said. “We cannot try to develop a complete list. Our charge is to up the game in competencies so [new lawyers] hit the ground running.”

Although Marshall advocated that students be required to have real-world experiences such as a clinic or externship, a majority of the breakout group – comprised mostly of academics – did not want to make it mandatory, fearing the lack of job placements for students.

Two other breakout groups met the same day to hash out details of the other two requirements for pro bono/modest means service and extra MCLE courses.

The breakout group on pro bono/modest means discussed how that requirement could have the dual benefit of preparing young lawyers for practice and addressing the lack of civil legal assistance to the poor.

One option the group discussed was to define pro bono service broadly but allow students who work with poor and modest-means clients to count that service toward both the pro bono requirement and the law school requirement.

The dual credit option, as it was being called, would serve as an incentive to help fill the “justice gap,” said Hernán Vera, a board member who led that breakout group.

The requirement for 10 additional MCLE hours in the first year of practice would most likely be self-reported, said Richard A. Frankel, a task force member who is also on the State Bar Committee of Bar Examiners. A system for that is already in place with the current MCLE reporting program.

The mentoring option presents some challenges in a state like California, which admitted 6,915 lawyers into practice last year, Frankel said. One way to accomplish it could be to start with a pilot program in cooperation with local bar associations or State Bar sections, he said.

The next task force meeting is April 23 in Los Angeles. The committee welcomes public comment.