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  • Wednesday, August 30, 2006

    To CLE or not to CLE?

    A while ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who has her MD. She was asking me all sorts of questions about the bar, being a lawyer, etc. -- and specifically about the professional requirements for continuing education and testing to maintain as current a license to practice law.

    I told her that continuing legal education (CLE) requirements varied from state to state but that all lawyers have a general duty to keep current with legal developments. That being said, neither Maryland, nor I think DC, has mandatory CLE. Virginia does, if I remember correctly.

    Anyway, she told me she thought that that approach was good and that doctors are required to take proficiency exams for licensing every ten (?) years. From her tone, I could tell that she was annoyed by that requirement. She followed up by saying that she felt it unnecessary because she had already passed her boards (for certification) once, so why should she have to retake them every ten years?

    I told her that I thought it was a very reasonable requirement. Unlike the medical field, lawyers never have to make split-second decisions that will impact someone's physical well-being or life. Sure, litigators have to be on their toes, but it just isn't the same. I know that the height of my legal knowledge was the days leading up to (and hopefully during) the bar. I have since forgotten so much of what I crammed into my brain for that exam (yes, folks, it's only been 6 months, and it's gone already!). I expect the same is true for doctors, to some degree (hopefully a lesser degree), and with the changes in medical technology, the state of science, research and health practices, I think that a once-a-decade exam is completely warranted for physicians. Further, I am much more comfortable knowing that doctors have to stay on top of their games well enough to pass their certification tests every decade. Especially since life and limb are literally at stake.

    She wasn't thrilled with my answer, but she understood the distinction I was making.

    But what about lawyers? Should we be required to take some kind of proficiency exam every decade, as doctors are?

    I don't think so, and I'm not just saying that because I am a lawyer. I'm saying that because I think the practice of law is fundamentally different from the practice of medicine. As an attorney, I don't need to remember, e.g., con law to have a successful tax practice but I do need to know the former to pass the bar. Is it useful to check in ten years down the line, ten years invested into a tax practice, to see if I remember what levels of scrutiny are afforded women, the handicapped, minors, etc.? Probably not. But I do think that doctors do need to have a basic proficiency in things medical so they don't forget. The stakes are too high when you're a doctor.

    Notsomuch (not really, comparatively) when you're a lawyer. For us, incompetence only results in legal error, disbarment, a malpractice suit, charges of ineffective assistance of counsel, etc. -- all of which is terrible but at least few verdicts are truly final, and there is always room for an appeal.

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