Attorneys in the Golden State must complete at least 25 hours of minimum continuing legal education (MCLE/CLE) every three years, as well as filing a report with The State Bar of California. That’s slightly more than eight hours per year, or a couple hours per quarter.
While there are some exceptions, it’s up to each individual attorney to complete the California CLE requirements before the filing deadline, in addition to filing all the necessary paperwork with the California Bar. Beyond the 25 hours of continuing education, half must be so-called participatory CLE credits while the other half can be self-study.
Breaking Down California CLE Requirements
New admittees and attorneys with an “active” status must meet the following California CLE requirements:
Most California attorneys must complete 25 hours of state-approved CLE credits every three years.
Half of the 25 (12.5) must be participatory credits.
Up to half (12.5) of the total hours are allowed to be self-study.
At least four hours of legal ethics study is required.
At least one hour of competence study is required
At least one hour of study in Recognition and Elimination of Bias in the Legal Profession and Society is required.
Reporting falls on the individual, and each attorney must report that they’ve met the CLE requirements by the deadline according to their group, which is a permanent assignment based on your last name (even if you change your name in the future). Last names between the letters of A and G belong to group 1, while those between H and M belong to group 2 and N and Z belong to group 3.
Exemptions and Exceptions
However, if you’ve been licensed for less than four months, you are not required to report compliance for the current period. If you are active and practicing as an attorney for any amount of time during the three year period, you may qualify for a prorated exemption from part of your California CLE requirements.
Other California CLE compliance exceptions include individuals who are officers and elected officials of the State of California or full-time law school professors at an accredited educational institution. Those employed by the state as an attorney or administrative judge are also exempt from California CLE requirements, as are those that are employed by the United States government and anyone employed by the Superior Court of California, as long as they’re not also actively practicing law.
That said, even if you’re exempt, you’ll still have to file a report prior to the California CLE deadline for your group indicating your exemption. Whether you were exempt throughout the entire compliance period, you’ve completed a prorated number of compliance hours during the period or if you’ve completed the 25-hour requirement due to a loss of exemption due to practicing outside your scope of work, you’ll still have to report your status on time. Those that fail to report their status on time may suffer the same sanctions as non-compliance, so it’s important to file accurately and on time.
Those that have a proportional requirement for their first compliance period can look up the exact requirement on The State Bar of California’s Proportional Requirement Table.
Types of CLE Credit
There are two main categories for meeting California’s CLE requirements: participatory credit and self-study credit. As noted, at least half of your CLE credits must be participatory. On the other hand, only half of your CLE credit hours can be self-study, which includes online CLE courses where you don’t need to check in. Essentially, the distinction between participatory and self-study comes down to whether the CLE is live or in person, or whether you’re studying the material on your own or in a group with live instruction.
In general, participatory credit can be earned if you are required to sign in at the time of activity, even if it’s a California CLE course online. The provider will have to keep a record of participants and those who were present, and they’ll also have to issue certificates of attendance to all participants for the activity to be valid. If your CLE course does not require live participation, it will be considered self-study, unless it’s been approved for participatory credit.
For self-study credit in California, some CLE courses will allow you to study on your own time, enabling you to take an assessment test at the end of the course. You can also qualify for self-study credit if you’re preparing written materials for a law book or legal course, though there are specific CLE rules that govern how much CLE credit you’ll get for each activity.
Credit Approval and CLE Records
According to The State Bar of California, attorneys are responsible for ensuring that the type of CLE credit that they’re submitting is valid and approved for credit by the State Bar. Approved jurisdictions are available online, though if a course or activity is not listed, you can also petition the State Bar via an MCLE Credit Request Form for approval.
To clarify, the following activities are not approved for credit according to The State Bar of California:
Grading California Bar Exams
Preparing for or taking the California Bar Exam
Acting as a judge pro tempore, mediator, arbitrator or settlement judge
Acting as a supervising attorney in the State Bar Law Office Study Program
Supervising or evaluating the legal work of associates (mentoring)
Participating or judging moot court competitions
Teaching non-lawyers at a local college or university
Taking general classes not related to the law
Tracking CLE Records
For the most part, it’s up to you to satisfy and track the California CLE requirements you’re responsible for during your compliance period. Some reports may be audited, so be prepared to provide your attendance or certificates from classes you’ve taken, records for self-study activities or proof of your exempt status. The State Bar requires that you keep your records for up to a year after reporting, so don’t toss or misplace anything.
If you are unable to present materials that support your reporting — or you fall short of the 25 mandated hours under California CLE requirements — you may be subject to a penalty. You’ll get some additional time to meet the requirements, but if you fail to do so again you may be placed on administrative inactive status, which will legally prevent you from being able to practice law.
If you’d like to learn more about California’s CLE requirements and to view CLE courses that satisfy California’s CLE requirements, please visit the TRTCLE California CLE page.