Newly Admitted California Attorney? What Continuing Education Do You Need?

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If you've recently passed the most difficult bar examination in the country and have been sworn in as a California lawyer, you're likely excited to begin your new career—whether hanging out your own shingle, working for a law firm, or seeking a career in public service. Regardless of which career path you choose, you'll be required to attain a minimum number of continuing legal education (MCLE) credits each year in order to keep your law license active. What are your most cost-effective options for reaching your MCLE goals? Read on to learn more about these requirements and how you can best fulfill them.

What MCLE is required of California attorneys?

All licensed California attorneys must complete at least 25 credit hours of MCLE during each three-year reporting cycle. Upon your admission to the California Bar, you'll be assigned to one of three reporting groups based on your last name, operating on a rotating cycle so one group is reporting its hours to the California Bar each year. You're responsible for reporting your own MCLE attendance, and although many MCLE providers will record your attendance and provide a list to the Bar, it's always best to keep your own records of attendance to be submitted along with your final request for credit.

As a new attorney, you're required to hit a few specific educational components while attending MCLE courses, including several hours on ethical issues, bias, and attorney competence. These subjects are deemed especially important for those who aren't yet experienced in the practice of law and may not have run up against many ethical issues during law school or in a previous profession. You'll also be restricted (as are long-term attorneys) from obtaining the majority of your MCLE credit hours on "self-study" activities, like reading a treatise or attending an informal presentation or lecture.

What should you do if you're living in another state but need to keep your California law license active?

Although the 25-hour MCLE requirement isn't waived for out-of-state residents, California has taken efforts to ensure that both live and remote continuing legal education seminars outside the state can be utilized for in-state credit. Because many of the required topics (including ethics) are governed by relatively similar rules and laws from state to state, you shouldn't find yourself at a disadvantage when (or if) you return to California to practice law.

If you hold the distinction of a dual license in both California and your new state, you should also be able to do double duty with each MCLE course you take, as you'll likely be granted credit for this course under your new state's MCLE rules as well. However, you won't be given a passing grade in California merely for fulfilling another state's requirements unless you also submit the required forms to the California Bar Association for the award of credits.

What are the most cost-effective ways to obtain your MCLE credit? 

Whether you're living inside or outside the state, online MCLE can often be the most inexpensive option—especially if you live in a rural county where live MCLE events are infrequent or expensive to attend. Although you'll be able to deduct any hotel costs, fuel costs, and a portion of the costs for meals eaten on the road if you attend an MCLE event outside your home county, this deduction generally doesn't fully compensate you for the amount spent to travel to an MCLE seminar.

Another cost-effective way to obtain required MCLE credit is to investigate events put on by local courts and pro bono organizations. These MCLE sessions are often free and open to the public as a way to encourage interest in the court system or in assisting unrepresented litigants. For further information about continuing your legal education online, go to a website like