State Bar cracks down on lawyers who lapse on their MCLEs

Media Contact: Laura Ernde                           415-538-2283                          laura.ernde@calbar.ca.gov

San Francisco (April 18, 2012) – The State Bar of California has suspended five lawyers and is referring 24 others for possible discipline following an audit of compliance with continuing education requirements.

Taking a more aggressive approach to Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) compliance, the State Bar last year closely examined the documentation provided by a randomly chosen sample of 635 lawyers.

The audit, which represented 1 percent of the attorneys whose MCLE requirements were due last year, revealed that 98 attorneys – or 15 percent – were not in compliance.

“The result is troubling and reaffirms the action being taken by the State Bar,” State Bar President Jon Streeter said in a letter sent this month to local bar associations across the state.

The State Bar requires active attorneys, except those statutorily exempt, to take 25 hours of continuing education courses every three years, including four hours of legal ethics and an hour each of elimination of bias and detection and prevention of substance abuse or mental illness.

In some cases the problems were minor. For example, some out-of-state attorneys neglected to fulfill the requirements for bias and substance abuse, which are not commonly required in other states.

But other cases warranted further attention. Five lawyers were suspended for failure to respond to the audit. Another 24 were referred to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel for possible disciplinary action because they falsely reported they were in compliance.

“The message is clear. California lawyers must fulfill and accurately document and report their MCLE requirements,” Streeter said. “No California attorney should be surprised if their compliance certificate is audited.”

This year, the bar expects to audit a larger sample of 5 percent, or roughly 3,000 to 4,000 lawyers. Letters requesting proof of compliance for 2012 will be mailed in July.

Attorneys selected for the next audit will receive a link to an online MCLE compliance log, where they will be asked to provide compliance details. They will also be asked to submit actual certificates of attendance, either by mail or email. Lawyers are reminded they must keep documentation for at least a year after their compliance is due.

For more information about MCLE requirements and reporting, visit the State Bar’s MCLE web page.