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Continuing legal education helps keep attorneys current

The more things change in the field of law, the better it is for attorneys in the state to take advantage of the many continuing legal education (CLE) offerings in the state given by providers such as the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), The Mississippi Bar, the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association and other providers.

One of the most popular CLE offerings is an annual update of the law seminar taught by Ole Miss Law School professors Guff Abbott and Robert Weems, said Larry Houchins, executive director of The Mississippi Bar. The seminars are held in the north, central and south parts of Mississippi, and draw a large number of participants.

Other law professors who offer seminars include Shelton Hand from Mississippi College and Debbie Bell from Ole Miss, both of whom do seminars on family law.

“I’ve noticed lately more law professors are doing seminars on the side,” Houchins said. “That is a new trend.”
Prior to the annual Mississippi Bar meeting in Destin, Fla., each year, The Mississippi Bar in conjunction with the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association offers a “Summer School for Lawyers.”

“It is a broad-based program that probably attracts the biggest crowd of any of the CLE programs,” Houchins said. “About 300 to 350 lawyers participate each year.”

The Mississippi Supreme Court requires all attorneys to obtain 12 hours of CLE each year, with one hour in the ethics area. The Commission on Continuing Legal Education staff keeps up with hours, making sure the courses taken are approved programs.

Houchins believes most lawyers get more than the required 12 hours. Attorneys get credit for teaching as well as attending. However, attorneys who live in rural areas of the state may find it more challenging to keep up with the requirements. That’s why attempts are made to provide the CLE classes in different regions in the state.

The programs cover a broad range of territory. Houchins said they can range from topics such as malpractice prevention, law office management, ethics and professionalism to instruction on how to pick a jury or do cross examination. A lot of the seminars cover certain specialized practice areas such as tax law or family law. Some specialties are so rare — perhaps there are only a handful of attorneys in the state specializing in that area — that attorneys go to out-of-state seminars to hone up.

“Within the Bar we have 15 practice sections,” Houchins said. “There are a lot of practice areas.”

The Mississippi Bar does on average two CLE seminars a month. The largest provider of CLE is Ole Miss, which averages several programs a month.

“We probably do more programming than any other provider,” said J. Renee Moore, Esq., associate director of CLE at Ole Miss. “We plan and execute up to 40 programs each year. We strive to serve as many interests in the profession as possible. Some of our events are very in-depth and spend six plus hours on a particular single subject matter (i.e., our Bankruptcy Conference) while other programs attempt to update practitioners on the latest changes in a variety of subject matters in order to help them keep current within such a dynamic field.”

Most of the Ole Miss programs are hosted in the state with the majority in Jackson. But events are also offered on the Coast and in North Mississippi on a regular basis. They also occasionally offer the opportunity for CLE study in nearby locations out-of-state, such as Memphis or New Orleans. And there are even foreign locations for CLE.

“We currently offer two wonderful international programs in the summer at Downing College in Cambridge, England, and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland,” Moore said. “We have been fortunate to develop a good relationship with Downing and Trinity law school faculty, and they serve as our instructors for the events. Plus, the academic quality of those programs is incredible. There is a tremendous value in exposure to other governmental systems, scholarly legal opinions and practices. “

Not all courses for attorneys are necessarily qualified for CLE credit. An example is the first “un program” planned this week by the Bar’s Technology Committee. Houchins said the format is based on the the committee’s observation that attorneys need time to informally discuss technology issues. They want the sessions to address the kind of questions asked the speaker and other participants in the hallway or parking lot after the presentation.

The Technology Committee’s “un programs” will provide an opportunity for lawyers to talk informally about technology related issues. If successful, the committee plans to host the programs on a monthly basis. The first un-programs held January 20 in Jackson was titled “Tech Talk At Twilight: An Informal Un-program of Real Questions and Real Solutions From Real Lawyers.” The topic was “Tech Toys — A Roundtable on the Latest Technology Toys, Gadgets and Equipment for the Busy Lawyer.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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