By DEBRA P. HOLLAND, Assistant Director N.C. State Bar Board of Continuing Legal Education
Not only does the end of January bring winter weather, but it also deposits the North Carolina State Bar CLE Annual Report Forms in the mailboxes of 24,000 active attorneys. These forms contain a transcript of CLE classes taken in 2010 and must be filed with the State Bar by Feb. 28, 2011.
The staff of five at the State Bar CLE department receives and processes the forms as they arrive as well as fields about 300 calls a day from attorneys with questions about either their transcripts or the reporting process.
A lot of the telephone calls could be avoided by reading the instruction sheet enclosed with the annual report form. Here are a few key points to remember about the filing period:
• Reporting deadline. The forms must be signed and returned to the State Bar no later than Feb. 28, 2011. The forms must be postmarked by Feb. 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.
• CLE requirements. Unless exempt under the rules, all active members of the State Bar who were licensed before July 1, 2010, must acquire 12 hours of approved CLE credit, of which two hours must be in the area of professional responsibility/professionalism. Once every three years, all active members must complete one hour of substance abuse/mental health awareness training. Attorneys may roll forward a maximum of two professional responsibility/professionalism hours and 10 general hours to the next compliance year.
• Online CLE Hours. Attorneys may complete up to four hours of CLE online each year and roll a maximum of four hours to the next compliance year.
• The grace period explained. One of the biggest sources of confusion 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 2011 may be applied to the 2010 compliance year. However, these hours will be recorded on the 2011 transcript. Any classes taken in 2011 will not appear on the 2010 Annual Report Form and should not be written on the form.
The question asked most of the CLE Department is how does the State Bar know that an attorney has taken hours in January and February to complete their 2010 hours? The answer is simple: CLE sponsors will report the attendance to the State Bar. When the attendance is posted to an attorney’s record, the hours will first apply back to 2010 before being applied to 2011. Attorneys may also attach the sponsor’s certificate of completion to the 2010 annual report form.
Many attorneys are anxious about satisfying their 2010 CLE requirements if they’ve waited until 2011 to complete their hours. They are in good company. Over 11,000 North Carolina attorneys had not completed their 2010 hours as of Jan. 19. For sponsors of CLE programs, this is the busiest time of the year because many attorneys are rushing to register for classes. And, once the classes are taken, attorneys mistakenly report the credit hours on their record right away.
The good news is that the State Bar CLE department waits until the CLE sponsors report their January and February attendance to determine which attorneys have not completed their 2010 hours. And, once the attendance is reported and the deficit list compiled, the CLE department will send a courtesy letter to attorneys with apparent deficits asking them to report any hours that are missing from their 2011 transcripts that could be used to satisfy the deficit.
When you get your annual report form, please read the enclosed instruction sheet. Then, review the form and make changes to your 2010 transcript if necessary. If you are taking advantage of the grace period to complete your hours, keep your own record of the classes that you take (but do not write the hours on your 2010 annual report form!). Finally, make sure the annual report form is postmarked by Feb. 28. If you still have questions, call the State Bar CLE department at 919-733-0123.