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State Supreme Court dismisses request for paralegal CLE rule

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//November 10, 2011//

State Supreme Court dismisses request for paralegal CLE rule

By: Jack Zemlicka, [email protected]//November 10, 2011//

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Attorneys who teach paralegal courses have the ability to apply for continuing legal education credit, but a vague Supreme Court rule has discouraged any from trying.

A petition filed with the court in July sought to clarify the issue, but the state justices on Monday dismissed the proposal prior to scheduling a public hearing. The court argued that because the Board of Bar Examiners already has the authority to grant CLE credit on a case-by-case basis, no explicit rule granting credit for ABA-approved paralegal classes is necessary, as was requested in the petition.

The problem with that logic, said attorney and co-petitioner Kathleen McDaniel, is the current rule doesn’t provide any incentive for paralegal instructors to apply for credit. Supreme Court Rule 31.05(3) specifies in part that “teaching a course in a law school approved by the American Bar Association,” is worth one hour of CLE credit for each hour of presentation.

“My reading of the rule is that I always assumed it would never be covered,” McDaniel said, “because it’s not a law school class.”

McDaniel was one of a dozen lawyers that filed the petition seeking permission to receive one hour of CLE credit for each hour of teaching a legal specialty court in an ABA-approved paralegal program.

State Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack said the current rule allows the BBE to evaluate applications for credit based on criteria including if the program increases the individual’s competence as a lawyer.

Part of the reason the justices denied the paralegals’ petition, she said, is because no one in the state has yet tried to get credit under the current rule.

“If the first one gets approved and they start applying,” Roggensack said, “they will know what types of things the BBE will and will not approve.”

The court unanimously dismissed the petition for a new rule, she said, because it didn’t want to open the door to a flood of other rules requests to include additional forms of non-attorney instruction.

“Attorneys get credit for teaching other lawyers,” Roggensack said. “Whether you can get CLE for instructing paralegals or a group of bankers of whatever, that should be looked at on a one-by-one basis.”

In a Nov. 1 letter to the court, Jacquelynn Rothstein, BBE executive director, said she also preferred a case-by-case review of applications to determine if the paralegal teaching qualifies for CLE credit. She could not immediately be reached for additional comment.

“That approach is far more preferable,” Rothstein said in the letter, “than having attorneys petition the court to create a new type of CLE category each time someone fails to find an approved one in the existing rules.”

Attorney Richard Opie, author of the dismissed petition, argued that paralegal instructors are not an obscure population of attorneys looking for a BBE exemption, however. There are six ABA approved paralegal programs in Wisconsin and approximately 30 attorneys teaching legal specialty courses, he said.

Opie, coordinator of the paralegal program at Lakeshore Technical College, said he was surprised the court and BBE preferred to handle the issue on a case-by-case basis. He and McDaniel said they now plan to apply for CLE credit for their paralegal teaching.

“I would have thought that amending the current rule to include us,” Opie said, “would be more efficient than having to review individual applications, but I guess we will see.”


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