No, really. Marketing “how-to” isn’t continuing legal education.

This is a popular topic, but this won’t be a popular take on it.

The prevailing wisdom among many lawyers, legal marketers, and CLE professionals is that marketing programs should qualify for continuing legal education credit. I disagree. But because my word is certainly not final (or, perhaps, even influential) on the matter, this debate just will not die.

For those of you new to the debate, it’s not a question of whether programs focused on the ethics of marketing should get credit. Those courses are already enjoying accreditation in just about every jurisdiction I can think of. Rather, it’s a movement to allow lawyers to take “how-to” marketing programs instead of substantive practice programs for the purpose of fulfilling CLE credit requirements.

Earlier this week, legal marketer Larry Bodine pointed to a Law360 article, which lamented, “Providers are free to offer courses without getting them certified, and some do, but that tends to affect attendance levels.”

As I have previously discussed, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for programs that can’t generate attendance without credits. All kind of professionals in all kinds of industries go to events or take courses that help them develop as professionals without getting one single credit for it.

But maybe I’ve been infected with the holiday spirit because this most recent push for “marketing CLE” got me thinking about some kind of compromise. So I thought, what if we carved out a certain number of credits that could be used toward marketing programs?

You know, kind of like we did with ethics. That way, we could be certain that, say, 70% of the required classes would be substantive and the other 30% would help lawyers market their practices. Or maybe it should be 75/25%. Or 50/50%. We can work out the details later.

Then I stepped back from that idea and realized how completely and utterly ridiculous it sounded. Would our profession tolerate regulations requiring that lawyers take marketing classes? I don’t think so. So why would it allow those classes to satisfy required credits?*

For fun, I pulled up the “Statement of Purpose” for the CLE regulations that govern my jurisdiction:

As society becomes more complex, the delivery of legal services likewise becomes more complex.  The public rightly expects that practicing attorneys, in their practice of law, and judges, in the performance of their duties, will continue their legal and judicial education throughout the period of their service to society.  It is the purpose of these rules to make mandatory a minimum amount of continuing legal education for practicing attorneys and judges in order to foster and promote competence and professionalism in the practice of law and the administration of justice. [emphasis added]

CLE, at its best, enables lawyers to provide better counsel to their clients and to demonstrate “competence and professionalism in the practice of law and the administration of justice.” While good continuing legal education provides a benefit to the lawyer, its primary goal is to benefit the public. And while there is legitimate debate about whether all CLE programs rise to the challenge, I’m not so sure there is legitimate debate about whether marketing “how-to” programs get us there. Marketing programs, at their best, are tied to the lawyer’s ability to build business. No doubt this is important to the lawyer and his/her professional success, but I simply cannot see how it is tied to the goals of CLE.

Do I think the current accreditation system is perfect? No. But do I think a way to fix it is to further dilute the original goal of required continuing education? No. I really don’t.

*Actually, I can think of one reason lawyers would support this: because they don’t believe in the regulated system we currently have so they want to water it down. But the argument to dismantle required CLE in its entirety carries more credibility than the argument that marketing programs should be brought into the existing framework.

3 Replies to “No, really. Marketing “how-to” isn’t continuing legal education.”

  1. Alli – I totally agree! I know this isn’t the popular sentiment, but there is, and should be, a difference between CLE (continuing legal education) and MCLE (manadory continuing legal education). Rainmaking and client development, career development, and marketing programs make more successful lawyers, but do they really add to a lawyer’s competency? Some could argue that there is no evidence that substantive CLE programs add to lawyer competence – but that’s a whole other post!

  2. CLE, at its best, enables lawyers to provide better counsel to their clients and to demonstrate “competence and professionalism in the practice of law and the administration of justice.”

    This is a reason to allow a certain number of credits for a lawyers marketing course. I work with lawyers every day, explaining how they need to share some expertise to gain clients trust, and how it is a balance to share ethical information yet hold back enough to not allow a reader (potential client) to harm themselves. They need to demonstrate competence and professionalism and a poorly designed website with the wrong content can hurt that portrayal.

    Number next, each local bar decided it was proper for an attorney to advertise or market their services, that same local bar should allow for CLE credit hours to maintain that marketing in the public interest or you end up with a lot of bad advertising/marketing presence, and that is what most were trying to avoid by preventing marketing from the legal community.

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