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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Top 7 MCLE Mistakes

By Psyche Pascual
Staff Writer

Every year it happens: A certain group of California lawyers have until Feb. 1 to complete their Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) credits and to turn in their reports to the State Bar.

Making sure attorneys keep up with their continuing education requirements is one the State Bar takes seriously and yearly audits show most lawyers are pretty good at complying.

But those who fail to turn in an MCLE report face monetary penalties and the possible loss of active status. Attorneys found lying on their MCLE reports also face penalties and disciplinary charges. In July, the State Bar begins auditing these records to determine whether the MCLE reports attorneys file are not only correct, but complete.

Will all that in mind, it’s a good idea for attorneys to make sure their records are as accurate as possible. Here’s a list of the most common mistakes that auditors have found:

1. Forgetting or overlooking ethics, elimination of bias and substance abuse CLE

Failing to complete the ethics (4 hours), elimination of bias (1 hour) and substance abuse (1 hour) requirements.

Tip: Using the State Bar’s MCLE Personal Log will help you track these requirements. There are separate columns for substance abuse, ethics and elimination of bias.

2. Taking CLE classes after reporting compliance

Reporting compliance and then submitting credit for courses taken after the date you reported compliance will land you in trouble.

Tip: If you know you’ll miss the deadline you should be aware that you will be assessed a $75 late penalty. You do have additional time to complete the requirement before you face the final deadline, however. Paying the late penalty and reporting compliance after you complete the hours is a better option than facing possible discipline for filing a false report of compliance.

You will not face audit sanction if you are late, but do not report compliance until after you’ve completed the requirements. Remember, you can’t use the late hours a second time as part of the next compliance period.

3. Math Bloopers

Arithmetic errors resulting in failure to complete enough hours.

Tip: Attorneys can use the MCLE Personal Log to tally their hours. You still have to do the math, but it creates a record of the classes you took so that you have the correct numbers.

4. ‘I thought I was exempt’

Misinterpreting the exemption rule. Members thought they were exempt and weren’t, or were only exempt for part of the compliance period and failed to complete their proportional requirement. To be exempt, state and federal employees must be employed in a position that requires them to be an attorney. City, county and superior court employees are NOT exempt. Temporary and contract workers are also not exempt from the rule.

Tip: Review the extensive State Bar rules on exemptions.

5. “My cat ate my certificate”

Lost attendance certificates make up a significant number of excuses. If you’re audited, you will have to produce a paper certificate as proof.

Tip: Keep your certificates in a safe place and use the MCLE Personal Log to track your CLE hours in case you need to contact the provider for a replacement. If you know you don’t have the certificate, ask the provider for one before you’re audited.

6. Sky-diving for MCLE credits

Submitting activities that have not been approved for MCLE is a common mistake. CLE courses MUST be approved for CLE credit and the certificate of attendance must note that.

Tip: Check out your education options to determine whether the activity you participate in is actually acceptable. If your activity is not on the approved list, you may have to submit a member credit request to get the hours considered towards the MCLE requirements.

7. Mistaking programs that advertise “MCLE credit available” for “MCLE approved.”

This is a common problem with members who take classes from out-of-state CLE providers. The fact that MCLE credit is available for a course does not necessarily mean that it has been approved for it. Your certificate must indicate that CLE has been awarded.

Tip: Check with the provider first to make sure that you will get credit for the course that counts towards compliance. You may need to apply for credit on your own using a member credit request. These requests, however, must be approved by the State Bar.

If you have a question about MCLE, don’t assume that you’re covered. You can avoid audit problems by contacting the Member Services Center at 888-800-3400, before you report compliance.