In a letter to California Local Bar Associations dated April 13, 2012, Jon Streeter, President of the State Bar of California, announced major changes in the audit process that will affect California attorneys, and likely the providers who issue credits to that audience. From his letter:
I am writing to alert you that the State Bar is taking a more aggressive approach to auditing MCLE compliance than it has historically. All California lawyers need to be aware of this change in the Bar's MCLE auditing process.
The result of the State Bar's recent 2011 MCLE audit of one percent or 635 lawyers has confirmed the need for increased auditing. Of the 635 audited attorneys, 539 provided the necessary documentation showing full compliance. Of the remaining 96 attorneys, five have been 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 our MCLE compliance group about future compliance. Approximately 25 of the 91 are being referred to the Office to Chief Trial Counsel for disciplinary action. Using simple math, we see that 15% of this reporting group were not in compliance.
This result is troubling and reaffirms the action being taken by the State Bar. In 2012, California attorneys can expect that five percent or roughly 3,000-4,000 lawyers to be audited. In 2013, the goal is to audit 10% which translates to 7,000-8,000 lawyers. Letters requesting proof of compliance for 2012 will be mailed in June.
The message is clear. California lawyers must fulfill and accurately document and report their MCLE requirements. No California attorney should be surprised if their compliance certificate is audited. For more information regarding MCLE requirements and reporting, visit the State Bar's MCLE web page.
The State Bar is increasing audits five-fold in 2012 and ten-fold by 2013.
So what does this mean for attorneys? More accurate and inclusive record keeping should become the norm in case of audit. The State Bar requires California attorneys who are audited to provide:
- The certificates of attendance given to attorneys by providers;
- The record of self-study activities including, as appropriate, the title, provider, time spent in the activity, subject matter of the activity, and the date engaged in activity; and
- Proof of exempt status, if applicable.
Attorneys must maintain their own records, listed above, for at least one year from the time compliance is reported.
And what does this mean for us as providers? We, too, must be more diligent in our tracking and record keeping. Each attendee must be given a Certificate of Attendance for his or her own records, and the proof of attendance upon which this issuance is based must be maintained by the provider for at least four years. If an attendee is audited, the provider must be able to produce a duplicate record that reflects the attorney's attendance.
The Bar plans to send out letters for this year's audit in July. Those selected will need to fill out an online MCLE compliance log and submit actual Certificates of Attendance, either by mail or email.