There are two separate CLE obligations that a lawyer must fulfill each year to remain in good standing with the North Carolina State Bar:
Complete the annually required 12.0 hours of CLE.
Sign and return the annual report form to the State Bar.
Unless exempt under the rules, each year, all active members of the State Bar must acquire 12 hours of approved CLE credit, of which two (2) hours must be in the area of professional responsibility/professionalism. Once every three years, all active members must complete one (1) hour of substance abuse/mental health awareness training.
Effective January 1, 2011, newly licensed attorneys are required to complete the 12-hour Professionalism for New Attorneys program, unless they are exempt under the rules. Attorneys who were licensed between January 1 and June 30, 2016, are required to complete the program by Feb. 28, 2017. Attorneys licensed from July 1 – December 31, 2016 have until the end of 2017 to complete the program. The course fulfills the annual 12-hour requirement.
Attorneys may complete up to six (6) hours of CLE online each year.
In June of this year, the Supreme Court approved an amendment to trust accounting Rule 1.15-2 that requires checks drawn on a trust account to be signed by a lawyer or by an employee who is not responsible for performing monthly or quarterly reconciliations.
Any lawyer or supervised employee with check signing authority must take a one-hour trust account management CLE course approved by the State Bar for this purpose. To allow CLE providers time to develop and obtain approval for appropriate courses and to allow a reasonable time for all law firms to come into compliance, the CLE requirement may be satisfied in 2017; however, compliance with the other signature requirements for trust account checks should be prompt. Completion of a one-hour trust accounting CLE course taught by the State Bar’s Trust Account Compliance Counsel after January 1, 2015, satisfies the requirement.
Annual Report Forms
In late January of 2017, the State Bar will mail the 2016 CLE Annual Report Forms to approximately 29,000 active North Carolina attorneys. These forms will contain a transcript of CLE classes taken in 2016 and must be filed with the State Bar by February 28, 2017. Key points to remember about the filing period follow.
The report forms must be signed and returned to the State Bar no later than February 28, 2017. The forms must be postmarked by February 28 to be considered timely filed (and to avoid a $75 late filing fee). Even if you claim an exemption from the CLE requirements, you must sign and return your form.
The Grace Period Explained
One source of confusion for attorneys is the two-month grace period for fulfilling the CLE requirements. The compliance year runs on the calendar year, but the CLE rules allow for a grace period at the beginning of the next compliance year. Hours taken during January and February 2017 may be applied to the 2016 compliance year. However, these hours should not be recorded on the 2016 annual report form since they were taken in another calendar year. The annual report form is the attorney’s verification that the hours taken during the compliance year (and during no other time) are accurate.
Most NC sponsors of CLE programs will report the attendance taken during the grace period directly to the CLE Department. When the attendance is posted to an attorney’s record, the hours will first apply back to 2016 before being applied to 2017. Attorneys may also attach the sponsor’s certificate of completion to the 2016 annual report form.
Many attorneys are anxious about satisfying their CLE requirements if they’ve waited until the grace period to complete their hours. For sponsors of CLE programs, this is the busiest time of the year because many attorneys are rushing to register for classes. The State Bar CLE department, however, waits until the sponsors report the January and February attendance to determine which attorneys have not completed their hours for the preceding year. Once the attendance is reported and the deficit list compiled, the CLE department will send a courtesy letter to attorneys with deficits asking them to report any hours that are missing from their transcripts that could be used to satisfy the deficit.
When you get your 2016 annual report form, please read the enclosed instruction sheet. Then, review the form and make changes to your transcript if necessary. If you are taking advantage of the grace period to complete your hours, keep a record of the classes that you take until they have been added to your CLE record. Finally, make sure the annual report form is postmarked by February 28—even if you have not completed all of your hours by that date!
About the Author
Debra Holland has been the Assistant Director of the Board of CLE for 9 years and has worked at the NC State. Bar for 33 years. If you have questions, call the State Bar CLE department at 919-733-0123.