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Mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) takes millions of hours and hundreds of millions of dollars from American lawyers every year, with the burden landing in disproportionate fashion on new lawyers, public interest lawyers, and solo practitioners. CLE proponents insist that the system protects the public by maintaining lawyer competence. In the forty-five years since the first jurisdictions began requiring CLE, no evidence has emerged in support of this claim.

This Article argues that mandatory CLE is indefensible in its current state. Either the legal profession and the CLE industry must commit to study and change, or it is time to close the curtains on this failed experiment.

A model for study and change has been laid by CLE’s medical analogue: continuing medical education (CME). CME has come under intense empirical scrutiny for decades and, as a result, has evolved away from the attendance-based didactic rut where CLE still lives. Looking to the CME example, legal scholars can begin down the empirical road to understanding whether and how reformed CLE might, finally, impact real-world changes to legal practice and the client experience. This path may be challenged by powerful institutions with vested interests in the current CLE system, but forty-five years of this unexamined and ineffective requirement is forty-five years too long.

Publication Citation

Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, Vol. 36, Pp. 1-38.