Beginning in 2010 Nebraska will join the 43 other states that have mandatory continuing legal education. Due to the passage of Nebraska Supreme Court Rule §3-401, active Nebraska State Bar Association members are mandated to amass ten credit hours at annual education sessions starting January of 2010. Two credits each year must be in the area of professional responsibility, which is defined as instruction in the following areas: legal ethics; professionalism; diversity in the legal profession; malpractice prevention; recognizing and addressing substance abuse and mental health issues in the legal profession; Nebraska Supreme Court Rules Relating to Discipline of Attorneys; ethical standards as they relate directly to law firm management; and duties of attorneys to the judicial system, public, clients, and other attorneys. Neb. Ct. R. § 3-401.2(J). Although tracking of annual education credits begins in January of 2010, the rule includes a look-back period that allows attorneys to seek credit for education attended from October 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010.
The rules also allow an attorney to carry education credits forward if more than 10 hours are earned in a given year; “An attorney completing more than ten (10) CLE credit hours during the annual reporting period may receive credit in the next succeeding annual reporting period for the CLE credit hours earned in excess of ten (10) hours, provided that the excess CLE credit hours carried over into the next succeeding annual reporting period may not exceed five (5) hours. Neb. Ct. R. §3-401.4(C).
In passing the rules mandating education, the court stated, “By continuing their legal education throughout the period of their practice of law, attorneys can enhance their competence to serve their clients.” With the Nebraska implementation of Continuing Legal Education requirements, it will leave only six states in the country with no mandatory continuing legal education. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Michigan and South Dakota are now the only states that do not require attorneys to attend annual education programs. Nationwide, the programs may vary in some respects; however all require a set number of hours (from 10 to 15 annually) with a required component of professional responsibility.
The Nebraska Supreme Court Rule assigned the task of administering the MCLE program to the Nebraska Supreme Court Continuing Legal Education Commission. The Commission is made up of a Supreme Court Justice and one attorney from each of the six Supreme Court Judicial Districts. The Supreme Court is in the process of appointing the commission.
The day-to-day administrative work of the commission is left to the Commission Director. The Director has the dual role of Judicial Branch Education Director, a position within the Administrative Office of the Courts. In 2004 Nebraska adopted mandatory judicial education, requiring all judges in the state to have ten hours of annual education. The office of Judicial Branch Education administers the program of mandatory judicial education. With the additional duties required by MCLE, it will be the task of the director to accredit program sponsors, courses, programs, and other educational activities that will satisfy the educational requirements, and approve CLE activities on a case-by-case basis if an attorney attends a course that has not been accredited in advance.
In addition to receiving credit for attending approved courses, attorneys may be granted credits for other education activities described in the rules. Up to five hours in the annual reporting period may be obtained through completion of computer-based legal education accredited by the Director. Up to five hours in the annual reporting period may be obtained for “in-house” CLE programs approved at least thirty days in advance of the program. Up to three hours in the annual reporting period may be obtained for teaching approved CLE programs.
A system for recording and monitoring attorney legal education credits required by the rules is being developed. It will require that all education information and accreditation requests be submitted on-line. Both the providers of the education and the attorneys must submit the credits on-line at the web site being developed by the commission. The attorney’s report of credit earned must be submitted by the end of the year: “On or before December 31 of the end of the annual reporting period, each attorney admitted to the active practice of law in this state shall make a report to the Director, in the manner prescribed by the Nebraska Supreme Court, concerning completion of accredited or approved CLE, including professional responsibility education, during the preceding reporting period.” Neb. Ct. R. §3-401.10 (B).
Attorneys will be provided a transcript on or before October 1 of each year reflecting credits that have been reported to the Commission. The transcript will be provided electronically to the bar members.
There is a process for waivers and extensions of time with the requirements specifically set forth in the Supreme Court rule. If an attorney fails to comply with the mandatory education requirements the Director must provide notification to the attorney and if there has not been a willful disregard of the rules, the director will approve a forty five day curative plan for the noncompliance. If compliance does not occur within forty-five days, a statement of noncompliance is filed by the Director with the commission. The commission shall enter an order to show cause why the attorney should not be suspended from the practice of law for failure to comply with the rules. A hearing may be requested by the attorney. The enforcement process ultimately may lead to a Supreme Court order of suspension.
To find out what qualifies for MCLE credit and review accreditation criteria and procedure contact the commission at 402 471-3137, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Nebraska Supreme Court Web site.
Director Supreme Court Continuing Legal Education Commission