California’s not-so-stringent legal ethics education

Every three years, members of the California State Bar have to complete a minimum of 25 hours of continuing legal education (“CLE”).  These include four hours of specifically approved “legal ethics” training.  CLE hours typically run from about $35 to $50 or so per hour, of $875 to $1,250 per reporting period.  Not going to break anyone’s bank—these are lawyers, after all.  But catching up on hours every third January tightens the budget a bit. 

Finishing up my final hour this afternoon, I was struck by the quiz at the end.  Check out the instructions at the top:


Passing score is 14% on a 20-question on a true/false exam!  That’s 3 out of 20.  I would have had to actually try to deviate that far from the 50% score I could have gotten by random guessing. 

It made me wonder whether the CLE requirements are really designed to improve the quality of lawyering in the state, or whether, like the State Bar’s annual dues form, they’re just padding the bill.  

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at


  1. I would make a cheap lawyer/ethics joke here, but I will refrain because Burt has been kind enough to help me out with some lawyer how-does-it-work questions for my writing, so I will refrain :).

  2. It would seem that the minimum passing score would be 70%, translating to 14 out of 20 questions answered correction. The intent, I would expect, is that a minimum score of 14 (without the percent) is needed to pass.

    • You might be right. I wasn’t willing to risk testing it, though.

      However, the message I received upon passing was: “You answered 19 out of 20 questions correctly resulting in a score of 95%.” That is, it refers to the “score” in terms of a percentage rather than number of questions answered correctly.

    • This is probably right. When I saw 14%, my mind filtered out the % sign and didn’t see what the big deal was. 70% is pretty typical for such things, I’d think.

      Still funny, though.

    • I have to think that you are correct, but it is still pretty damn funny – and a great catch by Tim. (This is the kind of thing I would have just glossed over and missed.) Especially since after looking at the questions, similar to my profession’s ethics test, you can probably pass without ever even being in the industry.

      Even if you are right though, I could see it leading to a pretty entertaining lawsuit from someone that only got 5 out of 20 who should never, ever be allowed to practice law.

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