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Long before the North Carolina State Bar made continuing legal education (CLE) mandatory, lawyers in North Carolina took CLE on a voluntary basis to improve their legal skills and knowledge. However, in 1985 the North Carolina State Bar Council concluded that the public would benefit from increased lawyer competency. In 1987 the North Carolina Supreme Court, at the request of the council, adopted rules to establish a mandatory continuing legal education program for North Carolina lawyers. Beginning in 1988, all active members of the North Carolina State Bar were required to complete two hours of ethics/professionalism and ten hours of general credit each year. In 2001, lawyers were also required to complete one hour of substance abuse/mental health awareness once every three years.

In the past 25 years, mandatory CLE has become the norm for North Carolina lawyers. North Carolina lawyers take an average of 15 hours of CLE each year. There are more than 6,500 CLE sponsors who offer programs to North Carolina lawyers in diverse areas of legal practice. The CLE department at the State Bar consists of several staff members under the CLE director. The staff is responsible for maintaining the CLE records for all active members of the North Carolina State Bar as well as reviewing more than 17,000 courses for accreditation each year.