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Attorneys learn, network at CLE events

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As is true in most professions, members of the legal community don't stop learning once they graduate from law school.

Attorneys continually update their knowledge on emerging areas of the law while refreshing the basics they learned in school.

The State Bar of California requires all attorneys to complete at least 25 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) every three years to keep their license to practice law.

"I'm a big advocate of continuing education," said Lonny Zilberman, a partner with the San Diego law firm Wilson Turner Kosmo. "I attend a lot of different seminars because I like to keep up to date on legal developments.

"In the legal field, there are cases coming out all the time and new laws coming out all the time in every different practice area. If lawyers want to provide the best level of service to the client, it's in their best interest to keep up with the law."

There are many ways attorneys can fulfill their minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement. They can attend a program in person, watch a webcast or complete a "self-study" course.

The state bar requires that members must fulfill at least half of their MCLE hours with activities approved for "participatory" MCLE credit. That means the most credit anyone can complete with self-study is 12.5 hours.

Attorneys also have to devote a specific amount of time to basic, refresher courses.

As part of their minimum 25 hours, attorneys are required to take at least four hours of legal ethics programs, at least one hour on a course about eliminating bias in the legal profession and one hour of class about the prevention/detection/treatment of substance abuse or mental illness.

"It seems to me the bar's requirement is the floor as opposed to the ceiling," Zilberman said. "Most lawyers complete more hours than required."

SJ Kalian, the San Diego County Bar Association's deputy executive director who manages the group's CLE programs, said the education requirement is "purely for the public's protection."

"In any profession, it's important to keep current," she said, adding it's especially true for attorneys "because the laws do continue to change."

The San Diego County Bar Association offers more than 300 hours of CLE programs annually, including self-study and web-streamed offerings.

The California bar must approve the MCLE providers and education activities to ensure attorneys receive a quality education.

The reasons most attorneys go over the minimum requirements can be varied, Kalian said.

Attorneys take courses for "their own practical knowledge," she said, adding other reasons may include "improving their own ability to serve the general public, improving their skills and growing within their profession."

The attorneys who attend get more out of the programs than just knowledge.

"It’s a networking opportunity — a chance to meet other people that practice in your field," Zilberman said. "These CLE programs promote collegiality and civility.

"If you actually meet face-to-face with your adversaries (in court) — I think there's something to be said about that interaction. It's harder to be angry and nasty toward someone you see face to face."

The seminars and programs that offer CLE credit also offer opportunities for mentoring.

"The newer attorneys learn from the more seasoned attorneys at these programs," Kalian said.

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