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Plan could reduce CLE burden for nonresident lawyers

A plan that would relieve nonresident attorneys of the burden of taking educational classes in Wisconsin as well as their own states moved one step forward last week.

The Wisconsin State Bar’s support of comity in concept advanced with unanimous support for a petition that would allow nonresident lawyers licensed in Wisconsin to spend more time in the courtroom and less time in the classroom.

Having approved the plan in principle at its December meeting, the Board of Governors voted on Sept. 14 to endorse the petition to amend SCR 31.04. The proposal would exempt nonresident attorneys from taking Wisconsin Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits, provided they have met the necessary requirements in their native state.

The Supreme Court will review the petition on Nov. 27.

Clarify Language

Attorney Donna M. Jones, president of the Nonresident Lawyers Division Board, recommended one modification. She requested that language be revised to include those nonresident attorneys “admitted to practice” in Wisconsin, rather than a lawyer “who does not regularly practice” in the state.

“I’m just not familiar with what the phrase ‘not regularly practice’ means,” said Gov. Jones, who is a private practitioner in Atlanta.

Fellow nonresident board member, Daniel F. Rinzel of Redmon, Peyton & Braswell LLP, in Alexandria, Virginia, suggested that the original wording offered an “unnecessary layer of confusion.”

Both State Bar President Thomas J. Basting Sr. and Board of Bar Examiners Director John Kosobucki, who filed the petition, vocally supported the revision.

“As I read it, I had no idea what it means,” said Gov. Basting, noting that his son is an attorney in Minnesota who is also licensed to practice in Wisconsin. “If he came in for one case and took 75 depositions, does that qualify as regularly practicing in Wisconsin? I don’t know.”

Kosobucki said that he personally agreed with the change, but the alteration would need to be approved by the BBE Board when it meets on Oct. 19.

“I don’t like weasel words and it should be spelled out, so I’ll certainly present my recommendation for the change to the board,” said Kosobucki.

Response to Nonresident Attorneys

The petition was drafted out of reports from nonresident attorneys that complying with CLE requirements in multiple states presented unneeded challenges. But while the petition would provide an exemption for some nonresident attorneys, it would not include those attorneys from states which do not have CLE standards similar to Wisconsin.

Whether the requirements are substantially akin to Wisconsin’s would be determined by the BBE.

Jones noted that unlike Illinois, which adopted a comity rule essentially approving all CLE courses from other states, Wisconsin’s rule would exclude a portion of nonresident lawyers.

“There are 35 states which have some type of mandatory CLE, but we wouldn’t necessarily accept all of their requirements,” said Kosobucki.

Serving on the Legislature, lecturing at a school or grading a bar exam fulfill CLE requirements in some states, but would not allow for exemption under the new rule in Wisconsin, according to Kosobucki.

Both Illinois and Minnesota have mandatory CLE requirements, but Kosobucki was unsure of how those standards would apply in Wisconsin, or if attorneys in Wisconsin would receive comity in other states.

“Ideally, that’s how the concept of comity would work, but I don’t think it’s been looked at as far as whether other states would accept Wisconsin credits,” said Kosobucki. He noted that if and when the petition is adopted, the logistics will be worked out.

A form will be drawn up for nonresident attorneys to fill out and the board would investigate which states’ CLE programs mirror those in Wisconsin according to Kosobucki.

Also from the BOG

The board voted to endorse Supreme Court petition 07-05, which seeks to amend SCR 32.09 relating to continuing legal education for the Wisconsin Judiciary.

Director of State Courts A. John Voelker filed the petition which clarifies sanctions for noncompliance with CLE requirements to include completion of 60 credits for each p
eriod of six years (SCR 32.02)

The rule currently only refers to SCR 32.04, judicial college attendance, and SCR 32.05, annual five-credit in-state educational activity. Gov. Daniel P. Bach, who is the BOG liaison to the Bench and Bar Committee, said the amendments are meant to remove ambiguity regarding sanctions for judiciary who do not comply with CLE standards.

The board also approved a public policy position in opposition of Gov. Doyle’s effort to consolidate state attorney positions into the Department of Administration.

The provision was initially included in Doyle’s budget bill, removed in the Joint Finance Committee version, and then resurrected by the Senate Democrats. If included in the final state budget, state attorneys from various departments would work out of one location, rather than out of their respective departments.

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