Attorneys in Class - MCLE compliance

Perhaps you’ve noticed it. It’s in the Daily Journal, if you read the brief announcements from the State Bar about attorney discipline. “Joe Shmoe received a one-year probationary period for reporting to the State Bar, under penalty of perjury, that he had completed his MCLE requirements when he had not. Shmoe had completed only four out of the 25 required hours when he reported to the State Bar.”

Just a year or two, we never saw these entries. All the discipline descriptions – which are darkly compelling to read – seemed to involve substance abuse, or a failure to communicate with the client, or trust fund mismanagement. These are serious matters, and while we may all know someone who ran afoul of the State Bar in one of these ways, with any luck we ourselves have avoided these issues.

But in the last year, these entries about CLE-related discipline have become increasingly frequent. I contacted the State Bar for more information. What I learned is that in a sense, it’s just about statistics, not about a crack down. The State Bar has always audited attorneys for MCLE compliance. But in recent months they have significantly increased the number of attorneys audited. As a simple matter of numbers, that results in more discipline cases. 

This is a situation you might be able to relate to. Used to the fact that the State Bar apparently paid no attention, you might have simply filled out your declaration as a matter of course. Sure, you probably got those CLE requirements, right? Or maybe, you believe you can carry over the credits from the last MCLE period into this one (you can’t). 

It can be easy to think that if you mess this up and the State Bar catches up with you, you can just fix it then. And the truth is, likely you can. The discipline imposed for MCLE compliance violations varies widely based on the circumstances, the depth of the problem, and the attorney’s level of cooperation. But it’s not something to play with – lying under penalty of perjury is a serious matter, and can have a significant impact on your practice. One attorney from Ventura was recently disbarred for MCLE compliance violations.

How to avoid this? Set up a system for tracking your MCLE compliance. It’s not that hard – you can set up an easy Excel spread sheet, or a Word document, or even a piece of paper pinned to your bulletin board. If you receive your CLE through the ACBA, we do the tracking for you, on your Member Page. Every year the ACBA offers more than 50 hours of CLE programs – more than enough for you to keep up. And virtually all of them are free to members! We also offer all of the specialty, “hard to get” credits:  Ethics, Elimination of Bias, and Competence Issues – throughout the year, and in a MCLE Compliance Day event we host in November that covers all of those credits. 

Keep yourself safe and your business secure – and I’ll see you in the classroom!

Tiela Chalmers is the CEO and General Counsel of the Alameda County Bar Association the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation. Tiela has been a consultant in the fields of legal services and pro bono. Prior to that she was the Executive Director of Volunteer Legal Services Program (now JDC) in San Francisco. Tiela started her career as an attorney at Farella, Braun + Martel in San Francisco.