How would you improve CLE?

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Is continuing legal education the professional equivalent of renewing your driver’s licence – requiring little of you beyond that you show up, pay your fee and get your picture taken?

That was one of the questions asked during Tuesday night’s Twitter chat this week, where the discussion focused on the utility – or futility – of CLE.

While some participants made the argument that CLE is useful – Karen Dyck, for example, says lawyers will often have an “Aha!” moment that will send them back to the office to implement lessons learned. Sara Cohen says CLE is essential, “especially for small practitioners as a chance to learn from others.”

With a few exceptions, however, CLE didn’t get much respect from the participants in the third #cbafutureschat this month.

Law student Emily Alderson says CLE “sure suffers from an image problem among young lawyers.”

Dyck thinks that might have something to do with the lack of curriculum and the ambivalence of learners.

Joshua Lenon, a lawyer and director of communications at Clio, which offers web-based law-firm management tools, has experience presenting CLE sessions, has a great deal of experience with the latter.

“I often have to wrangle attention from lawyers that think my talks will be another old-style CLE,” Lenon wrote.

Moderator Omar Ha-Redeye asked, “Are you saying they actually want old-style, low-end engagement?”

“They want CLE credit for sitting in back, reading a newspaper,” Lenon replied. “Because they’ve gotten that before.”

Lenon blames law societies for failing to commit “time, bodies and funding” to individualized training.

So how do you improve CLE? Natalie McFarlane suggested covering topics of more practical use, such as business model and service design. Megan Seto, who says “lunch and learns are single-sided conversations with free lunch,” suggested adding a mandatory pro bono component.

James Wegener noted that other professionals, such as nurses, are also required to engage in continuing education, but Ha-Redeye pointed out that they’re also required to demonstrate that they’ve learned something from it – through, for example, regular CPR recertification.

Measurable outcomes came up more than once as a way of improving CLE. Mitch Kowalski asked whether there is any data to show that having mandatory continuing education actually results in reduced claims and complaints. Dyck argued that there’s not necessarily a causal relationship between the two, but in any case she’s not aware of any North American jurisdictions that collect such data – though she suggested there might be money in it for someone who wanted to create tracking software that did so.

“I wonder if CLE does anything but create revenue for OBA & LSUC,” Mitch Kowalski tweeted.

“That’s the cynic’s question, isn’t it?” Dyck answered. “Hard to dispute given the lack of evidence of effectiveness.”

October 18, 2013 |
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