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Bar News - October 19, 2016

NHMCLE Update: Rules and Requirements Have Changed


You can lead a horse to water...

When New Hampshire joined the vast majority of jurisdictions in requiring some continuing legal education 25 years ago, I have to confess that I was not a big fan.

Both because New Hampshire then had a very high voluntary level of participation in CLE, and because of the adage cited above, I was not sure that imposing a requirement was the best approach.

New Hampshire’s Minimum Continuing Legal Education program administering Supreme Court Rule 53 has come a long way since then, and over the past two years, we have made significant revisions that I believe are for the better.

In the past, the NHMCLE Board has reviewed and approved all courses submitted for credit, and monitored in some detail compliance with the continuing education requirements.

In addition to the much larger size of the Bar, the CLE world has undergone significant changes: The number of providers has increased, as well as the sophistication and targeting of programming, and technology has changed the delivery systems.

All of these factors, and the desire to hold down the administrative cost of MCLE, drove the recent changes.

In addition to the automated reporting system instituted last year, there are additional changes this year (the “compliance year” starting July 1, 2016).

Lawyers now make their own judgments about the qualification of continuing education programs for credit, and self-report and certify compliance. In addition, the “live” credit requirement has been eliminated. These changes recognize that a lawyer should be able to self-interpret, and choose to devote time and money to, courses that meet the Rule 53 qualification as “educational activity of significant intellectual and practical content reasonably directed at maintaining or enhancing his or her professional knowledge, skills and values,” as the rule states.

The automated tracking system has streamlined the process of identifying those who have not complied, shortening the time for coming into compliance after the close of the reporting year, and increasing the consequences for failure to do so.

All of this is part of the effort to reduce the time and expense of monitoring compliance, and sanctioning failure to comply.

The new rule exalts lawyer autonomy in judgments about qualifying programs, but the audit function remains in place. The board will, annually, randomly audit some lawyers, to confirm both the attendance at programs, and the qualification for credit. Based on experience to date, the audit process has only served to confirm that New Hampshire lawyers are complying with the rules.

So as a member of the NHMCLE board, I have come a long way since my initial reaction to the institution of mandatory CLE back in 1992. The Court, and the NHMCLE Board, hope that these changes will make the process easier and more efficient for all.

As always, complaints and kudos are welcome.

Russell Hilliard

Russell F. Hilliard is chair of the NH Supreme Court NHMCLE Board.

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