Continuing Legal Excellence

Issue January/February 2017 By Mike Vigneux

In November 1941, a special edition of the Massachusetts Law Quarterly included a report from the Massachusetts Bar Association's Committee on Recommendations which expressed a strong need to provide "conferences on subjects of a legal nature, legal clinics, etc."

Sixth months later, continuing legal education (CLE) in Massachusetts was officially born under MBA President Mayo A. Shattuck with the establishment of the first two-day annual conference in Swampscott in May 1942, called the Massachusetts Law Institute. The event became known as the Swampscott Institutes and served as the annual legal education refresher for the state's attorneys for many years.

As CLE in Massachusetts enters its 75th year in 2017, the MBA's commitment to legal education continues today through the delivery of professional and thought-provoking CLE programs.

"As the MBA celebrates our 75th anniversary of offering CLE, it is a time to contemplate the hundreds of thousands of hours of valuable teaching disseminated to lawyers over those many years. This demonstrates the MBA's value to the legal community in educating lawyers to help them to become the best they can be for their clients," said MBA President Jeffrey N. Catalano. "More recently, we have offered CLE free to members, which is further proof of the MBA's deep dedication to education."

Today, the MBA offers between 80 and 100 free CLE programs every association year. This includes courses, luncheon programs, legal chats and seminars. In addition, the MBA facilitates eight major conferences per association year in different locations throughout the state (Probate Law, Family Law, In-House Counsel, Labor Law, Labor and Employment, Health Law, Complex Commercial Litigation, Dispute Resolution). Later this spring, the MBA will present its first Child Welfare Juvenile Justice Conference.

The MBA also annually provides seven Practicing with Professionalism (PWP) sessions for newly admitted attorneys in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell and Taunton. Launched in 2014, the course was developed in response to Rule 3:16, which mandated that all newly licensed attorneys in the state attend a day-long PWP course.

In addition to courses and conferences offered in-person, the MBA's CLE program went digital with the launch of MBA On Demand in 2010, allowing members to watch a recorded program online anytime from the comfort of home or the office. Certain programs also feature a live webcast where members can watch them in real-time from a remote location.

While CLE has evolved since that first meeting in Swampscott (see related timeline), it remains a voluntary yet vital part of the legal profession in Massachusetts, as lawyers hold fast to their belief in the importance of a highly-educated and participatory bar.

"Education has been one of the major reasons why the association was formed. It's an important part of your practice, not only when you begin, but also as you continue and keep current with the law throughout your career," said MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. "Massachusetts, as a whole, has been on the forefront of continuing legal education, even though it's not a requirement that's set out by our court in order to continue being licensed."

Keeping up with changing times

As new laws and emerging technologies continue to reshape the legal landscape, CLE provides a way for attorneys to stay current and relevant within the profession.

"The law is so dynamic and changing that it's impossible to keep your skills sharp and confident unless you attend CLE," noted MBA past President Denise Squillante, who previously served on the MBA's Education Committee.

Whether it has been alimony reform, new child support guidelines, attorney-led voir dire or even the legal implications of drones, the MBA has been and continues to be at the forefront of offering both timely and relative CLE programs to keep its members informed of the latest changes and developments in the law.

And MBA members have been instrumental in keeping CLE up to date through the years.

Ideas for applicable CLE courses come from several sources including Section Councils, core curriculum from the MBA's program services department, collaboration with the Young Lawyers Division and discussion threads on My Bar Access. There is also an online submission form for members to recommend a CLE program on a particular topic of interest.

"The process for submitting, approving and executing programs is more streamlined than ever before," noted Marc A. D'Antonio, senior programs manager at the MBA.

Value beyond the classroom

Hon. Bonnie H. MacLeod (ret.), chair of the MBA's Education Committee, estimates that she has attended more than 100 MBA-sponsored CLE programs while also serving as a moderator or panel member for more than 20 programs. CLE has been a constant benefit throughout her legal career on both a professional and personal level.

"The benefits of attending CLE through the MBA lie not only in the high-quality of the presentations and the materials, but also in the networking and mentoring opportunities they provide. Connections that will last a lawyer's entire career can be made at such events," acknowledged MacLeod. "I know this is true for me. Professional relationships and friendships of decades' duration were forged through the MBA."

MBA past President Marsha V. Kazarosian, a former member of the MBA's Education Committee who was president in 2014-15 when the new "Free CLE" benefit gave members unlimited access to CLE courses, agrees that the educational value of CLE extends beyond the specific course material being taught.

"You're not only learning what they're teaching you, you're also having an opportunity to meet and relate to the bench in a way that you normally wouldn't, especially as a young lawyer," Kazarosian said. "You're learning not only from what the faculty is teaching, but also from the questions that are asked and how they're answered."

The benefits of CLE are part of the reason it remains so popular despite being voluntary.

According to the American Bar Association, Massachusetts is one of just four states (in addition to the District of Columbia) that does not have a mandatory CLE requirement for its attorneys. Maryland, Michigan and South Dakota are the other three states without the requirement. Connecticut just recently added a mandatory CLE requirement as of January 2017.

Kazarosian co-chaired the MBA's Task Force on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education with current MBA Treasurer Christopher A. Kenney in 2011-2012. The task force conducted research and ultimately reported to the House of Delegates that mandatory CLE was not a necessary course of action to pursue.

"Massachusetts has an extremely high percentage of lawyers who still do continuing legal education," remarked Kazarosian, "not because they have to, but because they want to."


From Swampscott to laptops: the evolution of CLE in Mass


Continuing Legal Education is born in Massachusetts under the leadership of MBA President Mayo A. Shattuck. The first two-day annual conference at the New Ocean House in Swampscott includes the Massachusetts Law Institute, which remains for decades the state's most important forum for refresher courses. WWII veterans are in particular need of such courses.


MBA President Raymond Barrett attends a national conference on continuing legal education sponsored by the American Bar Association and the American Law Institute at Arden House in Harriman, NY. Consensus of the meeting is that bar associations should have the responsibility of providing continuing legal education courses to lawyers.


Chairman of the MBA Committee on CLE, Laurence Lougee, gets Board of Delegates approval and $10,000 for a statewide education program.


Richard Millstein is hired to implement statewide CLE programs for the MBA; for the first time, Massachusetts has continuing legal education courses available across the commonwealth to every member of the bar.


Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) is organized from a collaboration between the MBA and the Boston Bar Association to bring an end to conflicting and competitive programs.


MBA adopts resolution that CLE should be on a voluntary, not mandatory basis.


The MBA hosts its first Labor and Employment Law Spring Conference. The conference marked its 37th year in 2016.


The Chaplin Report recommends the Supreme Judicial Court not adopt mandatory CLE.


The Supreme Judicial Court issues an advisory opinion accepting the recommendation against mandatory CLE.

The MBA reaches a new agreement with MCLE, which allows the MBA to offer its own CLE courses without any restrictions.


The MBA hosts its first Family Law Conference, which becomes a popular annual event for the next 25 years.


The MBA hosts its first Western Mass. Bankruptcy Symposium.


The MBA hosts its first In-House Counsel Conference.


MBA On Demand is launched, allowing members the opportunity to watch an MBA program online from the comfort of their home or office at a time that suits their schedule. Real-time webcasts are also available for members to watch a CLE program live from a remote location.


MBA President Richard P. Campbell creates a Task Force on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education to study the issue.


The Task Force on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, co-chaired by MBA Vice President Marsha V. Kazarosian and Christopher A. Kenney (a region 10, Worcester County delegate), provides an overview of its report to the House of Delegates. "The message was Massachusetts lawyers are a very self-motivated group," Kazarosian said. "Many are not against CLE, just the mandatory aspect of it."


The MBA hosts its first Probate Law Conference.


The MBA begins offering free educational programming to members, excluding conferences and the PWP course.

In response to Rule 3:16, the MBA begins to offer a mandatory Practicing with Professionalism (PWP) course to newly admitted attorneys in Massachusetts. The day-long program is offered in different locations throughout the state.


The MBA hosts its first MassBar ski-LE event, combining legal education with a fun afternoon of skiing and networking at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area.


The MBA hosts its inaugural Complex Commercial Litigation Conference.

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