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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

MCLE audit results encouraging, but some attorneys still face discipline

By Laura Ernde
Staff Writer

Attorneys performed better overall in the second year of a State Bar audit of compliance with Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) requirements, a recent report showed. Even so, about 4.6 percent of lawyers failed the audit and face possible disciplinary action as a result.

This year, the bar audited 2,600 attorneys, or 5 percent of those who were required to report their MCLE compliance by Feb. 1. The audit revealed problems for 349 lawyers, or 13.4 percent. That was a decline from 21 percent last year.

“Attorneys who were paying attention took heed,” said Robert McPhail, who supervised the audits for the State Bar, in his comments to the State Bar Board of Trustees at its November meeting.

Some attorneys had done the required 25 hours of coursework over three years but ran into trouble for not taking enough participatory classes or missing credits on the subjects of legal ethics, detection and prevention of substance abuse and elimination of bias in the legal profession. Attorneys were largely able to resolve those kinds of minor problems.

McPhail estimated that 121 recalcitrant lawyers will be referred to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel this month for serious compliance issues. That includes about 27 lawyers who will be placed on administrative inactive status for failure to comply with the audit, despite being notified seven times by mail, email or a phone call. The referrals represented 4.6 percent of those audited, which was about the same ratio as last year’s audit.

About a third of people with audit problems were either solo and small firm practitioners or attorneys without active practices, McPhail said.

To assist attorneys, the State Bar is developing an online CLE tracking tool, said Pam Wilson, director of the Office of Section Education and Meeting Services. Soon, lawyers will be able to sign into My State Bar Profile and see all the State Bar-provided CLE courses they have taken.  Eventually, the tracking tool will allow lawyers to log courses they have taken from other CLE providers.

Meanwhile, State Bar prosecutors have begun to pursue discipline against some of the 27 attorneys referred to them as a result of last year’s audit. So far, three attorneys have agreed to 60- or 30-day license suspensions as a result of misconduct. Of the remaining:

  • Eight lawyers face disciplinary charges for either misrepresenting their compliance or failing to cooperate with the investigation
  • Two cases were resolved through an agreement in lieu of discipline, which is a non-public, non-disciplinary outcome
  • Two cases were closed with warning letters
  • Two investigations were closed without prosecution due to insufficient evidence of professional misconduct
  • 10 investigations remain pending

 “It is truly unfortunate that we need to take this action against any lawyer,” State Bar Executive Director/CEO Joe Dunn said. “Lawyers can easily avoid this problem by simply meeting the well-known MCLE requirements that have been in place for 20 years.”

Next year, the State Bar plans to audit an even larger group. Ten percent of attorneys whose last names begin with A through G can expect to receive audit letters next summer based on compliance reports that are due on Feb. 1.