The Oregon State Bar ("OSB") I
Bill Long 12/28/07
My (Bad) Encounter With the Continuing Legal Education Committee
Every three years each Oregon attorney with an active membership in the OSB has to certify that s/he has completed 45 hours of continuing legal education. The 45 hours have to be spread over a number of areas (such as legal ethics, child abuse reporting, etc.) which are not the subject of these two essays. The certification process is laid out in a series of rules and forms, and usually is a pro-forma process. You submit your forms to the CLE Administrator, you get your hours, you get the privilege of paying your dues, and you are set for the next three years.
When I was practicing "Big Firm Law" ("BFL"), the secretaries took care of most of this. They kept my "CLE notebook" up-to-date; they kindly pointed out in-house CLEs that would help me reach my required number of credits; they even ordered sandwiches for me so I could go to eye-glazing presentations over the lunch hour to make sure that I fufilled my requirements. Since I left BFL a few years ago, I have been "on my own" in filing my CLE reports. But 2004 went off without a hitch, primarily because I had accumulated most of my credits before I left the Firm. This year, 2007, was my reporting year, and I carefully kept my own records, submitting them early in December 2007 so that I could make sure that if any problem arose I would have time to correct it.
Ah...The Problem that Arose
After submitting my forms on Dec. 1, I received a Dec. 3 letter from the ever-efficient and professional Administrator of the CLE program, Denise Cline. She informed me that my request for 15 CLE "Legal Research and Writing" credit hours--the maximum allowed for this kind of activity--for researching and writing an article/book review of a recent biography of Gus Solomon, the longest-serving federal judge in Oregon history, was denied. Completely. Even though it was published in the Bar Bulletin itself. Just last year.
She based her determination on CLE Rule 5.2(c)(1)(ii). Since I didn't have that one memorized, I decided to look it up. It said that in order for credit to be given for legal research and writing the 'activity' had to
"contribute substantially to the legal education of the applicant and other attorneys.."
My article in the Bulletin did not, apparently, fit the bill, in Ms. Cline's judgment.
So, I decided to call her on Dec. 4. I asked her about the rule, and what the language bolded above "meant." I told her that the process of research and writing contributed substantially to my legal education, and that many attorneys and judges with whom I spoke after the publication of the piece mentioned that it was a good piece from which they profitted. Ms. Cline asked me to put in writing what I had said to her. So, I did. I sent her a long a email in which I made my case that this article contributed substantially to my legal education and that of other attorneys.
I called her the next day, Dec. 5. She got my email but still said that my explanation didn't measure up. 'Why?', I wanted to know. 'Well,' she said, 'we never have given credit before for a book review.' I told her that she was not only giving me a different explanation from her Dec. 3 letter but that the concept of book review is not at all mentioned in the rules. So, I wanted to know if her Dec. 3 letter still "stood." She said it did. I told her that I was confused, that I had written two previous articles for the Bar Bulletin that had been awareded CLE credit, and that I felt my explanation precisely dealt with the language of the rule.
By this time I had probed things as far as they could go with her, so she helpfully suggested that I should take the matter up before the CLE committee, which just happened to be meeting on Friday, Dec. 7, by conference call. I felt that was an excellent suggestion, and so I asked her if I should submit anything else for their consideration. She said that I had sent enough--and so the matter would rest until Friday, Dec. 7.
Pausing to Assess Where I Was
I really wanted the 15 hours since it was already December, and I needed those 15 hours in order to fufill my CLE requirements. So, I did a little research in the time leading up to the conference call with the CLE committee. I re-read Rule 5(c), which also had a section (i) which required that the piece be published in the form of "articles, CLE course materials, chapters or books...." I thought that perhaps someone might maintain that a "book review" wasn't an "article"--indeed, this is where Ms. Cline may have been trying to go in her oral explanation, though she never pointed to this section of the rules. The word "article" wasn't defined in the rules, so I repaired to the Unabridged which our Supreme Court in Oregon uses, and discovered that a substantial book review like mine would easily fit within the definition of "article" given in that dictionary. Then, I thought about the word "substantially" in the bolded rule above. I had to make sure that my piece had contributed "substantially" to my own legal education and that of other Oregon attorneys.
The Rules don't define "substantially" either, but the word appears in the following rule (Rule 6) in the following sentence:
"Credit shall be allowed only for CLE activities that are accredited as provided in these Rules, and substantial participation by the active member is required...," 6.1.(a).
I thought back to all those CLEs that I had attended over the years, with rooms full of seas of faces, where lawyers struggled to stay awake as someone droned on on a topic of interest to a few in the room. Some of the lawyers read the paper; some listened to their I-Pods. Some were using their blackberries. Some, actually, seemed to be paying attention. So this was my model of "substantial" participation. Indeed, people who go to these events get CLE credit for attending.
So, I felt I was on pretty solid ground before the CLE committee. Ms. Cline had been clear on her decision. It was courteously and professionally transmitted but, I felt, was clearly wrong, at least under the language of the rules. So, do you think I would find a sympathetic voice on the CLE committee? Not on your life. The next essay tells that story.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long