February 2017

Making the Most of the Minimum: How to Maximize Your MCLE

By Marti Worms

Assistant Director, Alumni Advising and Employment Reporting, University of San Diego School of Law

So you’ve graduated law school and the lectures are over forever. Not quite. Now that you are a member of the State Bar of California, you can expect to complete 25 hours in Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) coursework.

In general, every three years, active members of the bar in California are required to take 25 total hours in MCLE credit, which includes four hours of legal ethics; one hour of competence; and one hour of coursework on the topic of elimination of bias in the legal profession and society. The time periods for compliance are divided into three groups (sorted by last name) and staggered so that not everyone’s compliance deadline falls at the same time.

Like many mandatory duties, I have seen a lot of attorneys put off scheduling their MCLE hours until the compliance deadline is only days away. It is an understandable habit given the fact that you generally have three years to get these hours done. Time passes, you get busy and the next thing you know, you have to cram 25 hours of coursework into one miserable weekend. That is a way to do it, but not the best way to use the somewhat hidden opportunities that completing 25 hours of MCLE coursework presents.

You have 36 generous months to complete 25 hours of coursework. So put some thought into your MCLE classes and turn the time that you have to spend into a beneficial experience for you as a young lawyer and for your burgeoning practice. In other words, plan your MCLE classes with intention. Here’s how:

Identify MCLE Classes that Clarify Your Current Practice.

MCLE classes are available online or in-person and they can be as general or as specialized as you need them to be. By attending a practice-specific MCLE, you can augment your knowledge in your current practice area.

The San Diego County Bar Association offers numerous MCLE presentations throughout the year on a variety of topics.  Individual sections of the SDCBA hold MCLEs geared towards members of those sections, and the Forum for Emerging Lawyers pairs up with sections to introduce new lawyers to MCLEs that may benefit them.  Additionally, the SDCBA hosts a nuts and bolts series geared specifically to new lawyers. For the SDCBA events calendar, click here.

Finally, at the end of every year, there will be several MCLE seminars available to you that review the best and worst cases of the year and also identify trends for the coming year. Try to fit one of these end-of-the-year wrap-ups into your schedule so you can put your current practice into perspective, review what you learned in your first year out of law school and get ready for what the new year may bring.

Plan for MCLE Classes that Instruct You on How to Develop Certain Practice Skills You May Want to Improve.

As a new lawyer, you may not have developed deposition skills or had much practice at trial skills such as how to conduct voir dire. There’s an MCLE for that! Why not attend a skills-based MCLE presentation to get advice and tips from practitioners. You’ll have a frame of reference before you go in for that first depo.

I have found that joining an American Inn of Court is a terrific way to learn about and practice core litigation skills as well as develop professionalism and a sense of community. For more Inn of Court info, click here.

Attend an MCLE in an Area of Law in which You May Be Interested, But Have Not Practiced … Yet.

You may find as you practice that there are different areas of law which overlap with, or are complementary to, your current practice area. For example, real estate matters may raise environmental law issues or implicate land use/zoning law. Attend an MCLE class that provides an introduction to that new, yet related, area of law. You can use the overview to develop a lay of the land and begin to feel comfortable in related subject matter areas.

Consider Live MCLE Presentations As Opportunities to Network and Connect.

Live MCLE classes, in contrast to watching a webinar or reading an article, provide you with the opportunity to meet and connect with practitioners in your practice area. Oftentimes, live MCLE presentations have a pre-discussion social hour as well as a post-discussion question-and-answer period.  Use either of these time periods to meet other attorneys in your field. Introduce yourself to the attorney seated next to you and find out what brings them there. Walk up to the presenter after the seminar and ask any questions you may have about their program. This is an organic, comfortable way to start a conversation and make a professional contact for the future.

Complying with your MCLE requirement does not have to be tedious or last-minute. You can use the requirement as an impetus to deepen your practice, expand your knowledge and meet other attorneys to guide or inspire you. So, chart the course in advance and you’ll soon find you are making the most of your Minimum Continuing Legal Education requirement.