Defining the Rules: California Competence Issues

Meredith Cohen | January 22, 2020

California attorneys whose last names start with the letters N through Z must complete and report their 25 MCLE credits by January 31, 2020 (that’s next week, people!). Part of this requirement includes one credit-hour of Competence Issues - but what does that mean? We’ve broken it down for you. 


What is “Competence Issues” and why is it required?

A 2017 Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study found that 36% of attorneys had scores consistent with “problem drinking.” In addition, statistics show that 28% struggle with depression, and 19% show symptoms of anxiety. These numbers are troubling not only because they’re significantly higher than for other professions, but also because lawyers have ethical responsibilities to their clients to provide competent representation, and to the legal profession to report when fellow lawyers are not able to act with competence. Alcoholism and other substance use disorders can certainly impair an attorney’s ability to perform their legal duties. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can create problems with concentration and sleep deprivation, and can also lead to substance abuse if left untreated.

To raise awareness for both the issue and the resources to fight it, California requires attorneys to complete at least one hour of MCLE every three years that focuses on substance abuse or other mental or physical issues that impair an attorney’s ability to perform legal services with competence. Hopefully this required credit will not only reduce the instances of addiction and other mental health problems in the legal industry, but will also reduce the stigma attached to suffering from them. 


What are some example course topics that qualify for Competence Issues?

It can be challenging to find courses on these topics, particularly if you aren’t someone who’s ordinarily interested in psychology. If you are someone who’s been through these challenges in your life, you might find educational courses on the subject to be dry and impersonal. Below are a few examples of Lawline courses that not only satisfy the Competence Issues requirement for California, but are routinely praised by viewers for being more than just a run-of-the-mill CLE program:

  • Don't Give Up Five Minutes Before the Miracle. Attorney Laurie Besden shares her compelling personal story of drug addiction and recovery, and helps attorneys identify signs of substance abuse issues in themselves and fellow attorneys. Viewers have called this course “mind blowing,” “riveting,” and “eye-opening.”
  • The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change - This course reviews the research studies that have revealed so much about the legal industry’s substance abuse problem, and focuses on how stakeholders in the industry (think: regulators, bar associations, and individual employers) can shift the culture to prioritize individual well-being. Although this course is new, several viewers have noted that this program “should be a required program for all lawyers.”
  • Mental Health, Substance Abuse & Competence in the Legal Profession. This fascinating course is taught by a retired corporate attorney turned psychotherapist and author of books and articles about law and mental health. Will Meyerhofer specializes in counseling attorneys struggling with career and life issues, including depression, anxiety, burnout, and substance abuse, and uses this course to teach attorneys strategies to combat anxiety and depression, spot and address burnout, and handle situations where a colleague's performance might be compromised by substance abuse. One attorney said it was “the most honest presentation on (this) issue I have ever seen in 35 (years) of practicing law.”


Substance abuse and mental health issues can affect anyone. Whether you’re due to complete the Competence Issues requirement in California this month or not, there’s never a reason not to learn about the impact of addiction, depression, and anxiety on the legal industry, and try to understand ways to combat it for yourself and for your peers. Check out all of Lawline’s California Competence credits here


This article was originally published on January 30, 2018

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About the Author

Written by Meredith Cohen

Meredith is the Director of Customer Experience at Lawline but has taken on a number of diverse roles within the company over the years, and has handled just about everything from managing customer databases to doing post-production work on courses. Since joining the Lawline team in 2012, she has gotten her MBA online, done some world traveling, and hand-fed an ostrich. She loves singing off-key in the car, shouting out the questions on ‘Jeopardy!’ and eating dessert first.


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