Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent vote by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates to approve a revision to the ABA Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education to require one (1) hour of substance abuse and mental health CLE every three years, and one (1) hour of diversity and inclusion CLE every 3 years.
At the ABA’s recent meeting in Miami, the House of Delegates approved changes to the Model Rule for Minimum Continuing Legal Education requiring one hour of substance abuse and mental health CLE every three years, along with mandatory diversity and inclusion CLE. The decision to approve the revision was unanimous and there was no debate.
The rule revisions were sponsored by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education and its Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and resulted from a multiyear review of the continuing legal education model rule by special committee. The Model Rule had not been updated since 1988.
The revisions were approved about one year after a study by the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation concluded that lawyers suffer substance abuse and mental health problems at higher rates than other professions/industries. The study found that 21 percent of licensed lawyers qualify as problem drinkers; 19 percent have symptoms of anxiety; and 28 percent show signs of depression. The study also found that lawyers in their first decade of practice were more likely to face these issues.
According to media reports, administrators of lawyer assistance programs across the country endorsed the mandatory requirement and stated that it will remove the stigma lawyers might face for voluntarily attending mental health and substance abuse sessions. There was apparently a concern that lawyers who attend such CLEs will be assumed to be struggling with the issues; however, if it is mandatory, no one will make that assumption.
The revised Model Rule also requires one hour of diversity and inclusion CLE every three years which may include information about implicit bias or how to improve diversity in the legal profession.
The revised Model Rule is advisory only and each jurisdiction has its own CLE requirements. Currently, most jurisdictions do not require lawyers to obtain CLE credits for programs specifically related mental health and substance abuse. Three states currently require attorneys to complete specific diversity and inclusion programs.
Florida currently requires 33 credit hours of CLE every 3 years and 5 of the 33 credit hours must be in legal ethics, professionalism, bias elimination, substance abuse, or mental illness awareness programs. 3 of the 33 credit hours must be in approved technology programs. These hours are included in, not in addition to, the regular 33 credit hour requirement. Excess CLE credits cannot be carried over to the next reporting cycle.
Bottom line: The revised ABA Model Rule requiring 1 hour of substance abuse and mental health and one (1) hour of diversity and inclusion CLE every 3 years does not apply unless a jurisdiction adopts it in its CLE rules. Each lawyer should consult the CLE rules in his or her own jurisdiction.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670