Alabama Mandates 50 CLE Hours for Immigration Attorneys?
This past April, Alabama Senator Holley recently introduced Senate Bill 543 (SB543) that would require attorneys who practice immigration law in the State of Alabama to complete an additional 50 Continuing Legal Education (CLE) hours on top of the requisite 12 CLE hours already mandated by the Alabama Supreme Court each calendar year.
Assuming a law could be passed and was reasonable and enforceable, the text of SB543 struck me as odd for three different reasons.
First, 62 CLE hours per year seem especially high relative to other states. According to the American Bar Association’s compilation of CLE requirements per state (and U.S. territories), the highest number of CLE hours (45) are required in only five states. These states, however, allow attorneys to complete CLE hours during a three year period (≈ 15 CLE hours per year). Any “specialty” CLE requirements that are also required (e.g.: Ethics, Substance Abuse, or Professionalism) are not practice area-specific:
SB543, if enacted as law, would require Alabama attorneys who practice in the field of immigration law to complete a total of 62 CLE hours each year (50 CLE hours of immigration law and 12 standard CLE hours). This would make Alabama the only state to require a portion of its attorneys to complete 62 CLE hours versus the maximum 15 CLE hours or fewer by the rest of the States (and territories). I contacted various practicing Alabama attorneys, who declined to go on record, but did indicate their intense dismay at the mandatory requirements of 50 CLE hours per year as being onerous. Some commented that the legislative session will be coming to an end soon, so perhaps this bill will expire along with the session.
Second, is SB543 an unintended encroachment of the Alabama Supreme Court’s duties to monitor its own member activities? State bar associations (and sometimes state courts) typically oversee and monitor CLE requirements of its members. To what extent should legislative action, via an enacted bill, mandate CLE requirements for practicing attorneys? I contacted the Alabama State Bar Association for an official comment and this was the Bar’s response:
The exclusive, plenary authority to regulate the legal profession in Alabama resides with the Alabama Supreme Court. Pursuant to that authority, the Supreme Court promulgates those rules necessary to regulate lawyers in Alabama, including requirements for continuing legal education. Based on the separation of powers and the inherent authority of the Supreme Court to regulate such matters the proposed legislation would appear to attempt to legislate on a matter which matter is reserved to and more proper for the Supreme Court.
Third, it seemed odd to me that immigration attorneys were singled out. The legislative text provides, “Under existing law, there is no requirement for attorneys who practice in the area of immigration law to complete continuing education courses in the area of immigration law.”
Under this logic, shouldn’t every practice area necessitate additional, mandatory CLE hours? Since immigration law falls under federal jurisdiction, it’s curious to me that Alabama attorneys who practice antitrust, bankruptcy, copyright, employment, labor, patent, securities, tax, trademark, and many other federal practice areas were completely excluded from the language of SB543 (not to mention all other Alabama state law practices). I really wanted to understand the rationale behind SB543 so I also contacted Senator Holley’s office for clarification but as of the publication of this article, I have not yet received a response. (If I do, I will update this article.)
Short of guessing, what purpose does SB543 ultimately serve? Do you agree with it? Would you revise the legislation if you could and if so, how? If the bill were enacted into law, do you think it would be enforceable given the Alabama State Bar’s position on the Alabama Supreme Court’s role?