Saturday, November 22, 2014

The problem with continuing legal education (and how to fix it)

I recently attended a day-long continuing legal education (CLE) program as part of my 30 CLE hours that are required every two-year reporting period. It may have been the "longest" eight hours I've experienced since becoming a lawyer — although one speaker’s informative, dynamic, and even inspiring presentation on defending domestic violence cases salvaged the day from complete and utter disaster. Many of the remaining presentations, however, fell into one of the following categories:

  1. Presentations where the speaker admittedly had never practiced law — it was like law school all over again — and therefore focused on completely irrelevant aspects of the cases;
  2. Presentations that went so badly that I genuinely felt for the speaker and sincerely hoped that he/she would not be permanently scarred by such a public-speaking incident; and
  3. Presentations where the speaker boldly admitted upfront that he/she knew nothing about the relevant law, and was then repeatedly corrected by the audience whenever he/she attempted to hazard a guess on a topic.
This leads to my three recommendations for improving the CLE experience.  First, for the state bar, I have a modest proposal.  (I know that CLE is here to stay, so I’m not recommending structural reform.)  Let me earn my 30 credits by researching, writing, and publishing articles.  Right now, you only allow me to earn 15 of my 30 credits this way.  Just increase that to the full 30 credits, and I can avoid CLE seminars altogether while limiting brain deterioration in the process.

Second, for the organizations that sponsor these CLE events, do not invite out-of-state speakers to discuss topics specific to state law.  If the seminar’s topic is, for example, “How to cross-examine witnesses and impeach them with their prior inconsistent statements,” then go crazy.  This is pretty much the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and any practicing lawyer anywhere in the country will do.  But if the seminar deals specifically with state law, then recruit an in-state practitioner who knows something about the topic.   

Third, for the lawyers who are asked to present at these seminars, say “no” to the invitation unless you know something about the topic.  And even if you do know something about the topic, you should still say “no” unless you are willing and able to spend a significant amount of time preparing the material.  And if you say “yes,” you should (with most topics) produce a handout and lecture that gives step-by-step instructions on how to actually accomplish something.

There is a lot of work involved in doing it right.  Preparing a good handout and perfecting the lecture takes many, many hours — several times more than the number of CLE hours you will be awarded for your actual presentation.  I found this process to be so much work that I haven’t presented at a conference since 2008.  And therein lies the lesson: be willing to invest the time to do it right, or don’t do it at all.


  1. Well put! I have been burned by SBW CLE programs that were overpriced to start worn and the information conveyed feel far short of what they advertised. I am very skeptical of ant SBW programs

    1. Agreed. I have found no quality differences among the various providers of CLE. In my experience they're all equally bad.