A New Lawyer’s Guide to Teaching a CLE (Part 1 of 2)

I’m teaching a CLE with a colleague today, and I’m excited about both the topic and the presentation. Teaching a CLE, however, can be a lot of work. I have heard  more senior attorneys wonder if the non-billable work (creating the materials, the powerpoint, and the presentation) is worth it. Will the CLE help their reputation? Their business? I have no idea, but I can speak first hand to benefits new attorneys can reap when they jump into the CLE-teaching arena.

Learn a substantive area of the law

A senior partner in my firm taught me that one should always be on the lookout for CLE teaching opportunities that coincide with your current case load. Are you working on an excessive force case? Now is the time to sign up to teach a qualified immunity CLE. This method has the advantage of honing your skills in a necessary area as well as motivating you to create the best possible CLE materials (they can double as case research).

Of course, if opposing counsel case learns about your topical CLE, he or she may crash the party as well . . .

Get public speaking experience

I love talking to a crowd. In my fantasy life, I am a Broadway star. Since, however, I can neither sing nor dance,  the law seemed like a field where I could fulfill my showbiz tendencies without getting tomatoes thrown my way. That said, there still aren’t that many opportunities in our profession for new attorneys to take center stage and entertain the crowd. A CLE is a great way to gain public speaking experience while waiting your turn before a circuit court of appeals.

Build your Bio

I remember the first award I won in law school—it was for moot court. I didn’t think “how cool, I won an award.” Instead, I felt immense relief that when I worked for a law firm, I would have something to put on my bio page. It wouldn’t be blank.

As a newer attorney, it can be hard to think of legitimate-looking items to put on your bio page. And, after graduation, it starts to feel a little silly keeping old law school accomplishments up there (let alone college accomplishments). A CLE presents a nice way to define your bio. You get to pick the topics and, through your teaching, can establish yourself as a (rising) expert in particular fields of interest. Let’s face it: new attorneys may not have a lot of choice when it comes to selecting their own case load. But, you can control your destiny by offering yourself up to teach CLEs that will advance your desired practice (and your bio).

This point raises one additional advantage: younger attorneys often want to develop a practice area, but don’t have the substantive experience in that area to attract clients. Having written on a subject and then taught a few CLEs helps develop expertise before you go after your first client.  When you then speak expertly on the subject of patent damages, and someone asks “how do you know that?” you can glibly respond, “I just taught a CLE on the subject.”

That’s great Sybil, but how do I get CLE teaching experience as a new lawyer? Others have already provided advice on this front, but I will add my own story to the mix. Volunteer to partner with a senior attorney teaching a CLE. If you take on the task of writing the materials or creating the Powerpoint or Prezi, the senior attorney will likely invite you to give a bit of the presentation as well. If you’re entertaining and handed in the CLE materials by the deadline, you’ll likely get invited back.

As Woody Allen noted, 80% of life is just showing up.

 (image: The Audience Listens from Shutterstock)


  1. Avatar Josh C. says:

    This article should have been titled “why to teach a CLE.” I was hoping for some tips about preparing and presenting.

  2. Avatar statis says:

    There is a huge, glaring, ugly gap in the substance of your post. Can you guess what that would be?

  3. Avatar LD says:

    You are barely a new lawyer. What could you possibly teach anyone? Do you not have any sense of humility? Do you think because you clerked for a judge you are qualified to teach a CLE? I’d be embarrassed, if I were you, that you actually published an insipid juvenile piece like the one above. How about you practice law for about a decade and then and only then begin thinking about presenting at a CLE. There’s absolutely no way that you have mastered a substantive area of law at this point in your career thus breaching your first commandment. One more word of advice, don’t further embarrass yourself by publishing Part II of this train wreck.

  4. Avatar hew says:

    LD !
    Not a nice tone for a fellow professional! I do not know about you, but I have found that everyone has something to add to the mix; sometimes the newest (youngest) can be invaluable.

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