Attorney Matt Cordell received a deficiency letter recently informing him that if he didn’t come into CLE compliance soon, he would need to get ready to stand before the North Carolina State Bar and do some explaining.
But Cordell, of Ward and Smith in Raleigh, believed he was in compliance, as did three or four other attorneys in his firm who also received the notices.
A little alarmed, Cordell called the bar to see what the issue was. As it turns out, according to the bar, a certain percentage of the deficiency letters that it sent out contained some sort of error.
“I was deficient as of January 1,” Cordell said. “I was one hour short and got my year-end notice saying, ‘Hey, you have until Feb. 28 to get that hour in.’ I got that hour in before Feb. 28, but then I got a notice in April that says ‘If you don’t have your stuff in by the first week in May, you’re going to have to do a show-cause hearing.’”
So what caused all the confusion? According to the bar, a new software implementation aiming to make life easier for everyone involved is to blame for making it momentarily more difficult.
Alice Mine, ethics counsel for the bar, said it’s not easy to keep track of more than 27,000 licensed North Carolina attorneys and “complicated” CLE records. She called the old software “antiquated” and cited data migration issues associated with the transition and rolling out of the new software.
“We had to do sort of a final migration before we cut the software loose and what appears to have happened is there were some discrepancies,” she said.
Mine said that she believes that that percentage is low, with fewer than 40 of more than 2,300 notices being erroneous, and that the bar believes the attorneys who received the letters are—or were—in fact deficient, but sometimes in another area.
“One thing that’s really important to know is that all of the lawyers had deficits, but the discrepancy between the annual report form and the deficit letter is in the type of deficit they had,” she said. “For example, it may say you owe two hours of ethics and one hour of general, and on the annual report form it might say you owe one hour of ethics and two hours of general.”
Considering the magnitude of the project, Mine believes this glitch was a relatively slight inconvenience. She said that 20 or 25 attorneys contacted the bar regarding the discrepancy, and that the bar plans to contact the remaining lawyers they believe may be affected to clear up any confusion. She doesn’t expect a massive influx of phone calls from confused lawyers, but said that attorneys who have questions or concerns can contact the bar’s CLE department.
“We were actually pretty pleased that it was this small,” she said.
Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @NCLWHamacher