Why CLE Quality Has Declined As it Becomes Mandatory

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According to Carolyn Elefant, the answer is simple: money. Lawyers don’t want to spend any, so CLE providers can’t afford to, either. But mandatory CLE requirements mean CLE providers need to come up with a lot of seminars. That means the majority of people who present are mostly (1) selling something, or (2) unprepared, because their preparation time is uncompensated.

As a result, we get tripe like the iPad for lawyers seminars cropping up around the country. Or the parade of self-interested consultants I regularly see at seminars and conferences.

If mandatory CLE is making quality CLE harder to find, do we really need it? Elefant thinks not:

Good lawyers do what it takes to stay current and learn new skills to serve clients without need of a requirement, while lawyers who simply don’t care will spend a CLE session returning email or playing games on their smart phones. But if bars are going to have a CLE requirement, it should be meaningful or they shouldn’t have it at all.

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  • I’m sorry to hear this is the case in other parts of the country. The seminars put on by the NHBar Association are always top notch.

  • Unless the rule has changed, CLE presenters in Minnesota can apply for CLE credit to prepare and present a CLE. And it’s hour-for-hour credit, no less.

    • CLE credit is not the same as payment, especially when the CLE is about something like law practice management, where only a few credits are allowed. I’ve experienced some truly awful CLE in Minnesota, as well as some truly great CLE. I suspect money is often the reason for both.

  • CLE’s weren’t mandatory in your state(s) before? We are required 12 credits per year in PA.
    It’s been that way since I was admitted in 1994. There are a lot of excellent CLEs. The pricing has gotten pretty expensive on many but there are some outfits that are really good and have good pricing.

    • shg

      Yeah, well the iPad for Lawyers CLE was by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, so I wouldn’t push the envelope too hard.

      • I have seen several similarly-named seminars from other providers. Jumping on tech trends is a surefire way to bring an audience, it seems.

  • Roy Ginsburg

    I am one of the few in this country who actually gets paid for the CLE’s that I do nationwide. That is part of what I do to earn a living. Don’t be too impressed though; the annual earnings of many attendees exceeds mine. Trust me, you don’t get rich doing this stuff, although it beats the hell out of practicing law on a full time basis (I still do it part-time).

    I’ve been doing CLE’s for pay for about 10 years and have learned lots about the industry as whole. As an initial matter, the business model is a crazy one. Think about it; lawyers who bill hundreds of dollars an hour give their time away. It’s nuts. Now, since I’m a marketing guy myself, I certainly recognize that there can be a valuable business development component to doing a CLE, but the reality is that few attorneys do it for that reason. They do it because it feeds their ego. I can’t say I blame the Bars for taking advantage of that fact. But of course, when you rely on volunteers, it should come as no surprise that the quality can be very iffy.

    The game changer now is actually the web. Over the next 10-15 years, the all day live CLE program will likely be no more. There will continue to be conferences and substantive law institutes, but very little live programs other than that. The reason; it’s cheaper and more convenient to sit in front of a computer. And it’s a race to the bottom as far as price. If you are creative and flexible, lawyers can find free programs or those that cost as little as $10 per credit. Why spend more if you don’t have to?

    The winner in the CLE industry will be the ones who can figure out how to sell quality CLE’s on the web. Now, the vendors are essentially selling titles, nothing more. There is an audience for quality web-based CLE which can demand higher prices, just as there has always been one for live CLE’s. But no one is paying me enough to figure out how to effectively market a higher quality web CLE. It won’t be an easy thing to do.

    • shg

      Lawline asked me to do their web-based, for-profit CLEs for years. They sell them to lawyers, and the lawyers who do them get squat. I told them to kiss my butt. But what you consider quality isn’t likely to be anywhere near what I consider quality, particularly if you’re a marketing guy, which mean that you shouldn’t be doing CLEs at all.

      CLEs were about keeping lawyers on top of the law, not marketing or iPads. If that’s what they want to learn about, they can do it on their own time.

  • D. Macklin

    I heartily agree with the writer of this article. I have been an MCLE trainer, as in I organized and presented content, presented content and lead discussion groups, for the past 10 years either as part of my former non-profit law firm or through a non-profit training institute. I have also provided content as a trainer in the private sector. My concern is that there is little real quality control by the State Bars who mandate MCLE but don’t monitor the quality of the service. In at least one instance, I am aware of, well, an insistence that a provider of in-person, intensive MCLE activities shift to less comprehensive and (less effective) methods. MCLE is a good idea but the value is being diluted by reliance on “race to the bottom”, faster, cheaper, “gets you your time but not much else” products.