Melanee Cottrill, Past President
I have to do what? More education?
Continuing? When does “continuing” even mean?
How on earth does that work?
My fellow paralegals … if that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. My introduction to MCLE was not a smooth one. I had no idea what I was doing, nor did anyone seem to know exactly what I was really supposed to do. Everyone could agree that I was required to do some sort of continuing education, and that there was very little guidance in the law as to how to go about that. None of which was particularly helpful to me!
In my years as a paralegal and member of the SVPA Board, I’ve learned a lot about MCLE and the most common interpretations of Business and Professions Code section 6450(d). As you know, I am not an attorney and nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice – when in doubt about your MCLE requirements, always ask your attorney to make the final judgment. That said, here are a couple important things I’ve learned along the way.
THE “M” MATTERS – IT’S MANDATORY
MCLE courses for paralegals are subject to the same requirements as those for attorneys. Under Business and Professions Code section 6070 (you might think wait, that section is for attorneys, not me! You’d be right – except that our 6450 refers to 6070) they must be approved by the State Bar. State Bar approval means that a course offers substantive, current legal content that is valuable to attendees – it’s a good thing.
What some people don’t realize though, is that not everything promoted as CLE is MCLE – without the M, it may not count! National organizations, like NFPA and many of our vendors, offer CLE courses. While the content of those courses is valuable, they may not have been approved for California MCLE – sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Always, always, always confirm with the provider that the course is approved for California.
IT’S THE SAME TWO YEARS FOR ALL OF US – I THINK
One of the most questioned aspects of 6450 is the phrase “Every two years, commencing January 1, 2007…” I’ve heard a myriad of interpretations, including
(a)Once you graduate, you must complete MCLE every two years from your graduation date;
(b)Once you are employed as a paralegal, you must complete MCLE every two years from your initial employment date (after all, the code says any person “working” as a paralegal);
(c) By December 31 in every even-numbered year, you must complete MCLE.
But which one is the right one?
Beats me. The most common, widely-accepted interpretation, however, is C. By December in every even-numbered year, every paralegal must have completed 4 hours of general and 4 hours of ethics MCLE. This interpretation begs the question – what about proration? If I become a paralegal in November 2014, do I really only have two months to complete my MCLE? Ask your attorney – but if it was me, I’d be in a mad rush to get my 4×4 done.
THERE IS NO OVERSIGHT BUT YOUR OWN
One of the best things about paralegals is that we are sticklers for records and wizards at paperwork. It’s a good thing too, since there is no oversight for our MCLE. Each of us must keep our own records – and be ready to produce them if needed. I keep a folder at home and a folder at work, just to be safe. My folder looks like a litigation file – colored tabs for each two-year period, an index for each two-year period, and my completion certificates in chronological order. You never know when you might need it, so have it ready to go.
Over the 13 years since 6450 was enacted, there have been four court cases in which the code has played a part. Unfortunately, those cases haven’t provided a lot of guidance as to how to comply with the code – there are a still a lot of un-interpreted provisions, with which we have to do our best. By making sure it’s California-approved, confirming the compliance period with your attorney, and keeping all your forms organized you’ll go a long way towards protecting yourself, your firm, and your client.
For a more comprehensive resource on 6450, see the San Diego Paralegal Association’s 6450 & You booklet available on our 6450-You.