Redefining CLE

The very first continuing legal education course I ever took was right here in the office where I now work. It was a class required of all incoming lawyers. In fact, it’s still a class required of all incoming lawyers. And it was pretty good. In addition to teaching me some of the ethical obstacles I was sure to face in my early years of practice, it also taught me what CLE was, which was something I didn’t think about much [at all] during  school. CLE was pretty much like law school–you went to a classroom, listened to someone who knew more than you about a given topic, and got credit for doing so. Easy enough.

But that was a long time ago, at least in years measured by a new era of information, and I didn’t have it quite right. CLE is about professional development and that doesn’t stop and start with an event–live or online. And it’s certainly not defined by the credits you submit to a regulatory authority at the end of the year. It’s an ongoing learning process that comes in many forms.

Which is why my organization launched this free site just over a year ago. Through it, we’re sharing all the information we learn in the course of doing what we already do: planning programs, publishing books, and looking out for the professional development of Colorado lawyers. When State Judicial releases new forms, we’re posting about it. If the Supreme Court updates the rules of professional conduct, we’re on top of it. And if a lawyer blogs on an important topic, we’re working with them to highlight that, as well.

As a nonprofit organization devoted to educating Colorado’s lawyers, we think this is simply another step toward fulfilling our mission. Our obligation doesn’t begin when our students walk into a classroom and end when they leave. It’s bigger than that.

Sometimes we’re linking back to a relevant product we sell, but often we’re not. More and more, we’re finding the site to be a tool that is helping us target the the most relevant topics for product development. For example, this issue we posted on turned out to be a topic big enough for a CLE program. So just as we’re feeding the site, it’s feeding us.

And as our traffic and subscriptions subscriptions have grown, I’m feeling more and more optimistic that we’re feeding the practices of Colorado lawyers, as well.

3 Replies to “Redefining CLE”

  1. For reasons unclear to me, I receive notification of CLEs from all sorts of providers, private, public, bar and government. I occasionally spend a moment checking out who is talking about what, and with rare exception, am apalled at the offering. It’s not that the subject matter isn’t interesting or important, as much as the speakers bring nothing more to the table than any other moderately competent experienced lawyer.

    Bar Associations are, in my experience, the worst offenders, using their very important officers as speakers so they can pretend to be worth listening to and get some cheap CLE credits for their efforts. They may be clueless on the topic, but get the chance to tell lawyers their fascinating war stories because no one in the audience has any war stories of their own.

    There are lawyers out there who have gained some remarkable expertise, are worthy of recognition and could offer substance that would make a couple hours lost out of a lawyer’s day pay off. They are rarely the ones doing the CLEs, unfortunately, because they aren’t begging for the publicity, willing to pay their own way and in need of ego gratification.

    Now if somebody could put together CLEs with truly worthwhile and knowledgeable speakers from a lawyer’s perspective, that would be something valuable. In the meantime, I would rather hang with old friends by the coffee than listen to another very important bar official regale me with his war stories. But that’s just me.

  2. I agree. Many CLE providers need to be more discerning in their selection of speakers. It’s not enough to simply fill the time slot or to hold a CLE just because someone wants to speak.

    But I think the problem is rooted in the nature of mandatory CLE. MCLE doesn’t make lawyers learn; it makes them purchase credits. And if you’re just buying credits, who cares who’s speaking. Or what the topic is. And, hey–shouldn’t we get credits for learning how to market our services, too?

    The commoditization of CLE (which some tell me is a natural and good thing in a “free market society,” though it is actually not so free market if it is regulating CLE) turns any hope of quality education into a race to the cheapest credit. Perhaps instead of trying to sell the most credits to the most people, providers might focus first on creating one truly great CLE program. And go from there.

  3. You’re quite right that MCLE has turned education into credit buying, but I suspect that, give the stiff competition for MCLE dollars and its annoyingly mandatory nature, many lawyers would prefer to spend a few bucks extra for something they actually wanted to attend with speakers that actually offered some substance.

    The question remains, how many CLE providers would know what constitutes meaningful substance to lawyers? My sense is not too many.

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