On January 1st, 2020, the Hungarian government adopted new legislation making continuing professional education compulsory for lawyers, post-qualification, along the lines of post-certification training and education that tax advisors and accountants had been forced to obtain for many years.
With 8,700 members in the Budapest Bar Association, and 16,000 members in the Hungarian Bar Association, achieving the ambitious goal of creating, applying, and administering this system is no mean feat, especially because existing models, in CEE, are few and far between.
The System in a Nutshell
Hungary’s continuing legal education program will work on a point-based system that runs in 5-year cycles. Each year, every member of a Hungarian bar association – whether national or local – must collect a minimum of 16 credit points, and at least 80 points over the 5-year cycle. Credit points are granted to those who attend either virtual trainings (such as e-learning, online workshops, and webinars) or in-person “contact” trainings. Lawyers who are unsuccessful in collecting 80 points in a five-year cycle will have their bar membership withdrawn.
According to the bar’s regulations, each session must be at least 45 minutes long, and when the training is followed by an exam – and that exam is passed – the points are doubled. CMS Budapest, for instance, which has been accredited by the Budapest Bar to provide trainings, is offering 60-minute sessions followed by an exam, which will provide those participants who pass the exam two points. The firm is also offering 90-minute sessions worth four credit points if the exam is successful. Those who fail the exam, by contrast, will only get half of the available credit points.”
In addition, certain trainings completed before the Hungarian rule came into effect on January 1, 2020, can also count towards the single-year and 5-year goals. Thus, lawyers who completed a training after 2018 in a particular specialization or field of law can apply for credit points.
Credit can also be gained from trainings attended abroad; lawyers who participate in foreign courses may apply to the Education and Accreditation Committee of the Hungarian Bar Association to have them accepted and subsequently translated into domestic credit points.
The CLE regulation naturally provides some exceptions, generally for lawyers who have reached a certain level in their career or training or are pursue a particular career path. So, for example, law graduates who are university employees or have degreed in political science or public administration are exempt. Similarly, attorneys who have an LL.M or Master of Law degrees are also exempt, as are those who teach, participate in a two-year public service training, or are aged 75 or older.
How it Works – and Who Works It
The task of designing and implementing the new education system was handed to Geza Reczei, the President of the Educational Committee of the Budapest Bar Association, who previously created and developed education systems for both PwC and Deloitte, as well as the Hungarian Civil Service. Reczei created the CLE system based on those personal experiences, tailoring it to the specific requirements of legal education and making sure to include e-learning that genuinely supports a lawyer’s career. After drawing up a general outline of the system, he then focussed on ensuring that it would use technology that could work across all devices.
According to Reczei, the Budapest Bar Association Education Committee had limited time to work out how to develop, implement, and manage the education program, so it concentrated primarily on creating an e-learning library and a points management system. In parallel, the Hungarian Bar Association started developing an administrative system while also creating educational videos. The two Bar Associations are currently combining the systems.
According to Reczei, a training event can only be organized by an official training provider, i.e., at a regional bar association, an internal training venue, or an external venue with regular accreditation. And the various e-training courses currently available concentrate on general, business operational topics to make sure they are useful for everyone, at this initial stage. More specialized topics are being created, and the Education Committee continues to review and analyze each step as the program develops, watching reactions and responding to feedback.
The Budapest office of CMS plans to provide one training per month, and to curate the training content themselves, with approval from the Budapest Bar Association. “We are trying to contribute to the Budapest Bar’s and Hungarian Bar’s training programs in a meaningful way,” says CMS Budapest Managing Partner Erika Papp. “That is, we try to suggest training topics that are typically within the expertise of an international law firm, such as cross-border financing and other cross-border transactions.”
“The training program, including the choice of topic, has to be pre-approved by the Budapest Bar,” Papp explains, noting that “we have received approval from the Budapest Bar for the trainings to be held in the first half of the year.” She emphasizes that these trainings are meant for lawyers from both within and outside CMS. “We wanted to be inclusive and invite other lawyer colleagues who are interested in our topics. Our clients – that is, the legal departments of our corporate clients – have also expressed an interest in joining our trainings.”
Initially, the introduction of CLE in Hungary was an unwelcome change, and it was met with some resistance. Reczei, however, says he feels like the scepticism is passing, and that lawyers are warming up to the concept. “People are enjoying it now,” he says, confidently. “We have Facebook groups that have given good feedback, including discussion and exchanges of new ideas, and topic requests.”
For her part, Papp says she and her colleagues had no problem adapting to the new system. “Because our staff is highly exposed to other countries’ legal systems and bar regulations it was not a surprise that the compulsory training and accreditation system was introduced in Hungary as well.” Indeed, she says, its installation will help address weird imbalances. “For example, in England it has been in existence for several years, and our English-qualified lawyers have been collecting yearly credits. Now, the Hungarian lawyers will have to do it as well, so we welcome the new regulation.”
Not everyone sees it as a pure good, of course, and Milan Kohlrusz, Partner at Bittera, Kohlrusz & Toth isn’t completely persuaded. First, he is quick to emphasize that he has no objection to the new rules in theory, saying, “I always thought that it was a great initiative, and we need developments from time to time; I know this system from the UK, and there it works quite well.” But he admits that he’s less enthusiastic about some of the individuals who have popped up, he says, solely to profit from a perceived business opportunity. “The problem here is that it is now a new business for lawyers, judges, prosecutors,” he says, sighing. “New companies have been established in order to deliver the training. Many firms are using judges to explain certain laws. And on topics that we already know about.”
Kohlrusz has high hopes for future improvements to the system, which he says should focus on providing more access to those with specific expertise. “In arbitration – or specifically international arbitration – we may get better trainings abroad, like in Paris, London, New York, Stockholm, and so on. You may get new angles and rules on how to act, behave, or interpret the rules. Hungary is far away from this knowledge, so it’d be better to attend those. This could be applied to M&A or finance lawyers, too. I would broaden the training and make deals with foreign institutes. In these events you could get materials, sample what you could use here, and improve the Hungarian legal practice, too.”
Orsolya Gorgenyi, Partner at Szecskay Attorneys at Law and Head of International Affairs for the Budapest Bar Association, is also conscious of potential improvements down the road. “At the moment, the topics are still focused on ‘lexical knowledge.’ In my opinion, however, learning business and soft skills would be even more important to succeed in the future as a lawyer. In my opinion, once we get the CLE system going, we should also start offering a wider variety of trainings and workshops which focus on such skills. In AIJA I am now vice-chair in charge of the SCILL Commission, which stands for Skills, Career, Innovation, Leadership and Learning, and I can tell you that lawyers from around the world are hungry for such topics!”
Still, Gorgenyi insists, that doesn’t in any way limit her enthusiasm about the new system. “I absolutely approve of the CLE system,” she says. “I think we all must continuously develop ourselves. The offered courses are numerous, so anyone can pick topics that are relevant and useful for them. I am optimistic about the future of CLE in Hungary, especially now that as a positive side effect of the pandemic everyone is more used to online tools and webinars.