Recently, I noted on a listserv that one of the cheapest ways to get CLE credits and market oneself at the same time is to teach CLEs. In Minnesota, presenters can receive credit for the time spent preparing the seminar, plus the organizers usually let the presenters attend the rest of the program for free.
But in response to my listserv post, someone asked me a simple question: how exactly does one become a CLE presenter?
Although it may help to have stunning good looks, that could not be the explanation in my case. But I did begin presenting CLEs just a few years after I graduated from law school, long before I really knew anything. I spend a lot of time talking with CLE providers and coming up with CLE ideas. So here are some tips for getting up to the podium:
Look around for county or state bar section meetings. Many of these sections try to serve their members by offering free or low cost CLEs. The section chairs are often volunteers themselves and they are always looking for volunteer presenters and interesting topics. Call or e-mail them to say you have noticed that the section hosts CLEs and that you would like to get on their schedule for a future meeting.
Bank on basics
You don’t have to be the leading expert in the state to deliver an effective CLE, especially if you are talking to folks outside your practice area. “7 Things Every Family Law Attorney Should Know About Real Estate” and “9 ½ Things Every Real Estate Attorney Should Know About Family Law” are very popular CLE topics (for the family law attorneys and real estate attorneys, respectively). The more lawyers specialize, the more cross-fertilization will make for good CLEs.
Offer to organize
In Minnesota, many CLEs have volunteer planning committees that develop particular programs. When you attend a program in your practice area, find the organizer, volunteer to work on next year’s program, and put an item on your calendar to follow up in a few months (it would help, of course, to come up with some clever ideas for new seminars). Working on the planning committee often leads to serving on a panel or presenting a topic on the day of the program.
When a group of lawyers spends enough time together, eventually they decide to run a CLE, either in connection with a fundraiser (which is becoming more common) or to raise awareness for a pro bono cause or for their own marketing purposes. Volunteer for bar committees or pro bono legal clinics or the like, and CLE opportunities may come along.
Are you passionate about your area of practice? Are you willing to answer people’s questions? Do you have time to help out your fellow lawyers? People who seem to know what they are talking about -through magazine articles, website and blog posts, listserv responses, etc.- get noticed, which can lead to CLE invitations. Speak up (but be humble).
How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice, practice, practice. Once you get a CLE gig, do not forget to prepare a useful set of materials for the audience and put together a compelling talk. Remember some essential speaking elements: do not read your materials to the audience, tell war stories only to make a specific point, use humor carefully, and stay focussed on your outline. If speaking does not come naturally to you, practice beforehand.
If none of that works, find someone you know who presents CLEs frequently and ask them to show you the secret handshake.