A New Lawyer’s Guide to Teaching a CLE (Part 2 of 2)

Man with Megaphone

Last week I talked about the benefits of teaching a CLE as a newer attorney (and how to land a CLE gig). This week, I turn to the nuts and bolts—how to put together a CLE presentation. As a first step, you’re going to want to pick a topic that won’t make more established attorneys think “who the heck does she think she is?”

Pick a Topic

After last week’s post, at least one gentle reader raised the question as to what a new attorney could possibly have to offer the legal world when it comes to teaching a CLE. This is a good question and an important one to think about when you’re picking a topic. Established attorneys are not likely to want to hear from new attorneys on topics like “everything you need to know to win a $5 bazillion class action,” or “Advanced techniques in patent litigation.” That said, there are areas ripe for new attorney attention. These are generally subject areas where research and time are more important than experience. For this reason, I’m a huge fan of the new attorney CLE providing a case update. A case update (whether for the Supreme Court, a particular circuit or state supreme court, or in a particular practice area) offers useful information and doesn’t scream “I’m way out of my league.” After all, we all learned how to read and summarize cases in law school.

There are, of course, other topics that may be a natural fit for newer attorneys—especially if you have an already-developed skill set. A friend of mine is new to the legal profession after 10 years as a professional money manager—there would certainly be a way for her to spin her financial experience into a great CLE. If you have a PhD in political theory, theories of debate from ancient Greece might be up your alley. Finally, if you write or blog about being a newer attorney, you may find yourself being asked to speak on panels to newer attorneys.

Spend Time Putting Together Quality Materials

The quality of the CLE depends upon the substance of the talk—and putting together good substance is a time commitment. I will usually spend an entire weekend (or two) putting together a 1 hour talk (see last week’s post for a discussion as to why this sort of time commitment may be worth it.)

The trick is not just to read the cases (if you are providing a case update), but to offer people a synthesis of the cases. What does the new case law mean in context? In order to provide an audience with more than a summary of the latest cases, I usually turn to the latest law review articles on the topic, articles discussing the new cases, and perhaps even the Supreme Court transcript of the argument. After reading everything you can get your hands on, you may want to chat with more experienced practitioners in your office about any theories that you are developing. Is a new case making litigation more difficult for plaintiffs? I’ll do the reading, but then speak with practitioners so that I can offer audiences both an academic perspective and a practitioner’s perspective.

Don’t be Boring

This is a tough one, but certainly a worthy goal. I am most entertained by CLEs that are useful, include interesting stories, and offer some hypothesis that requires me to mull over the materials. Wildly enthusiastic presenters help as do entertaining presentation materials.

I took a CLE on PowerPoint presentations a few years ago and still rely on a two key points: (1) don’t put too much information on any one slide; people will read it instead of watching (or listening) to you; (2) a picture will help enhance a verbal story. But the internet is always willing to offer more substantive advice on this front.

These days, all the cool kids seem to be ditching the PowerPoint for the more interactive Prezi—you may want to check it out and see if the more flexible format will work for your CLE.

A final tip to avoid being boring? Find out the skill level of your audience before you jump in. If it’s a small enough group, simply asking everyone to introduce themselves and speak about their level of experience will help. Nothing is more boring than sitting in a CLE that is so far above your level of knowledge that you can’t follow it. That’s when the laptops come out.

(image: Man with Megaphone from Shutterstock)

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