June 2012 - State Bar Happenings
by Dimetria A. Jackson
Every month, California State Bar President Jon Streeter hosts a Presidents’ Meeting, via conference call, with Presidents, Presidents-Elect, and Executive Directors of local California bar associations to discuss the State Bar’s initiatives, discuss how local bar associations may get involved, and share their opinions. This year, in addition to judicial court funding, some of the most noteworthy topics have included the State Bar’s enhanced MCLE certification compliance audits and potential practical skills training requirements for recent law school graduates as a condition to admission to the California bar.
State Bar Audit of MCLE Certification
In 2011, the State Bar conducted an audit of 1% or 635 California lawyers (in Group 3 (N-Z)) to determine whether they were in compliance with the 25 hours of mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) required every three years. According to the audit results, 539 lawyers provided documentation required to demonstrate full compliance. Of the remaining 96 attorneys, 5 were suspended due to their inability to show any compliance. Most of the remaining 91 attorneys had minor reporting deficiencies and received a cautionary letter from the State Bar’s MCLE compliance group about future compliance. But, approximately 25 of the 91 were referred to the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel for disciplinary action. Since 15% of the audited attorneys were not in compliance, the State Bar has reaffirmed its position and has decided to expand the pool of attorneys audited, in future years.
MCLE Audit Letters to Be Mailed in June
This month, the State Bar will mail letters requesting proof of MCLE compliance to members of Group 2 (H-M) whose compliance period ended in 2012. The State Bar will audit 5% or 3,000 to 4,000 lawyers, in 2012. In 2013, the State Bar plans to audit 10% or 7,000-8,000 lawyers in Group 1 (A-G).
According to a letter from the State Bar President to bar association leaders, “no California attorney should be surprised if [his or her] compliance certificate is audited.” In addition to fulfilling MCLE requirements, all California attorneys must document and retain proof of compliance. If your MCLE certification is audited, you will be required to provide: (1) certificates of attendance given to you by providers; (2) records of self-study including the title, provider’s name, the number of credit hours, the subject matter and the date of participation; or (3) proof of exempt status, if applicable. The State Bar requires attorneys to maintain the records listed above for one year from the time compliance is reported.
Although audit letters will be mailed in June to members of Group 2, all attorneys should ensure proper documentation and verification of MCLE compliance, especially given the State Bar’s heightened audit reviews. If you are looking for a resource for continuing legal education, the Orange County Bar Association (OCBA) sections offer monthly MCLE programs on topical subjects.
OCBA & MCLE
The OCBA sections provide networking opportunities and education, including MCLE credit hours. The OCBA has approximately 24 sections, covering a host of practice areas. Most sections meet monthly and provide continuing legal education to its members at a low or nominal cost. In fact, section members may attend program meetings and obtain 45 minutes to 1 hour of MCLE credit for free every month. The only cost is for meals. Non-section members may also attend the monthly MCLE programs, with or without lunch, for a fee.
In addition to the section meetings, the OCBA provides over 25 seminars annually that meet the MCLE requirements, including specialty credit hours. The seminars provide education and updates on changes in the law on a variety of interesting topics. If members are missing credit hours, they may obtain 25 MCLE credits, including all of the specialty credits, at the OCBA’s Last Dash—two full days of CLE seminars—held in January. The OCBA also offers self-study online CLE courses as well as reasonably priced recorded lectures. Each 1.0 hour of MCLE credit costs $25 for OCBA members and $35 for non-members.
Members who attend an OCBA-sponsored CLE event may view their CLE attendance history and download a copy of the certificate of attendance form (a recently added feature) by logging into their account on the OCBA’s website. This documentation may come in handy if the State Bar ever audits your MCLE certification.
Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform
In April, the Board of Trustees voted to form a task force to study whether the State Bar should establish a practical skills training requirement as a condition for admission to the California Bar. The 21-person task force, consisting of lawyers, judges, academics and public members, members of the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Bar Examiners, is expected to hold three public hearings and submit its final report by December 2013. The task force will determine whether other states have imposed any pre-admission requirements as a condition of Bar admission and the availability of training in law schools. They will address the amount of training that would be required, the specific content of the training, and whether the training would improve the competence of new lawyers. The task force will explore alternatives to practical training, such as a mandatory post-admission mentoring program, to improve the readiness of new lawyers to practice. Other areas to be considered include how a pre-admission training requirement would affect the cost and availability of legal services in California, the ability of law students to find employment and manage their law school indebtedness, and the willingness of new attorneys to practice law in California.
According to an article in the Daily Journal, State Bar President Jon Streeter was quoted as saying that Delaware’s requirement that new lawyers complete a five-month clerkship and pre-admission session by the Supreme Court and State Bar is “much narrower than what we had in mind.” When this initiative was raised during the Presidents’ Meeting, the conference call participants raised several questions regarding who would be responsible for training the recent graduates, the potential burden on legal employers to train new attorneys (who were not their employees), the financial impact on recent graduates if they were not able to practice law for an extended period while obtaining skills training, and whether the training could be obtained prior to graduation from law school. These issues and others will hopefully be addressed in the task force’s final report.
Review of California Accredited Law Schools
The Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform has also been tasked with examining the adequacy of the State Bar’s regulations governing disclosure by California accredited law schools of post graduation employment data and whether admission to the California Bar should be limited to ABA or California accredited law schools. These State Bar initiatives will undoubtedly have an impact on law school education and the practice of law in California.
Dimetria A. Jackson is 2012 President of the Orange County Bar Association, a freelance attorney with Montage Legal Group, handling corporate transactional matters, and the Chief Executive Officer of redBAMBINA.com. She may be reached at email@example.com.