Increased California MCLE Audits Lead to First Disciplinary Charges

All the more reason to properly complete and document your MCLE compliance in California.

The State Bar of California has made it no secret that they plan to audit many more California attorney’s MCLE compliance in the coming years. Since California is a self-reporting state, there is more leeway for falsifying compliance than in states who directly keep track of their attorneys MCLE compliance.

Now, the State Bar has filed disciplinary charges against three California attorneys due to this increased enforcement of the California (CA) Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements. According the State Bar of California, the three attorneys falsely reported that they had fulfilled the requirement to complete 25 hours of MCLE.

“It is truly unfortunate that we need to take this action against any lawyer … lawyers can easily avoid this problem by simply meeting the well-known MCLE requirements that have been in place for 20 years.”[1]

                                       – State Bar Executive Director/CEO Joe Dunn

Attorneys in California (CA) must take 25 hours of CA CLE courses every three years.  Out of those twenty-five units, attorneys must complete 4 hours of legal ethics, 1 hour of elimination of bias, and 1 hour of substance abuse credit. Lawyers must keep documentation of completion for at least one year after compliance period has ended.

Further, California attorneys must remember not to exceed the 12.5 unit self-study limit.  While attorneys may take all 25 units of participatory credit, attorneys may take no more than 12.5 units of self-study credits.  Attorneys have also been found to be in non-compliance because they exceeded the self-study limits.

The three cases are the first disciplinary action to result from increased MCLE audits. However, there are more charges expected in the coming weeks. A total of twenty-seven lawyers have been referred to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel due to last year’s random audit of 635 lawyers.

Further, the State Bar is not done auditing California attorneys for MCLE compliance. In all, then State Bar of California plans to potentially audit as many as 12,000 lawyers over the next two years.[2] It’s interesting to note that while the Bar only audited 1% of the attorneys in 2011 it is now looking to audit as many as 10% in 2013.

[2] In 2012, California attorneys can expect that 5% or roughly 3,000-4,000 lawyers to be audited. In 2013, the goal is to audit 10% which translates to 7,000-8,000 lawyers.