Recently, my next-door neighbor, Barry, rolled down the window of his car to say hello. We usually chat about the kids or what’s going on in our town, but this time he seemed slightly panicked, and I soon found out why. Barry was two weeks away from the conclusion of his CLE reporting period and hadn’t satisfied any of his requirements. He was nowhere near completing the 24 credits required and hadn’t taken even one of the four ethics credits he needed to complete. “Didn’t we have this same conversation two years ago?,” I playfully asked him. Barry smiled sheepishly and admitted that he’d let it happen again. He had procrastinated himself into a corner.
Is CLE at the Bottom of Your List?
A week after Barry and I spoke, I learned that he had spent the weekend in front of the computer scrambling to find CLE courses to take while his wife was left alone to entertain and care for their three kids, all under the age of 6. He also took a live course that occupied most of a day he’d planned to spend working on a client matter simply because the course was available when he needed it. The topic was not in his area of practice; he took it only because it was available and knocked off a couple of credits. We half-joked that, for him, the class was the equivalent of taking Underwater Basket-Weaving for Lawyers. Time-consuming and useless.
Like Barry, most lawyers put in long hours at work, at home, and in the community. They know it is important to get their CLE credits but it just doesn’t seem urgent. After all, they have a year or two to get it done, depending on the rules of their jurisdiction, and there is “real” work to be done for clients. Billable work. They’ll get to it . . . eventually.
CLE Can Support Your Career Goals
Continuing to be educated about your area of the law or any area of overlap is critical to your career advancement. Although hands-on experience is an ideal way to learn, learning from someone else who has compiled information that can be absorbed quickly is also a great way to pick up ideas, discover best practices, and learn from others’ mistakes. Fulfilling your CLE with an overall plan in mind is the best way to ensure that you get the formal education you need to keep up with changes in the law and continue to develop your expertise. You have to take the courses anyway, so you may as well take the courses that will benefit your clients and help you advance your career goals. As an added bonus, you’ll get your CLE done without panicking.
Your Strategic CLE Plan
Instead of procrastinating and then panicking at the end of your reporting period, take time now to decide what you’d like to accomplish professionally in the next year and figure out how your CLE can support that. For example, if you’d like to get more comfortable with taking and defending depositions, seek out several programs offering tips and practical knowledge about different aspects of deposition practice. Maybe you’d like to be a better negotiator or writer – seek out courses in those areas. Perhaps you are already an expert in a particular field but there’s a narrow area of the law you don’t know much about and you anticipate that your clients might need your help in that arena in the future.
Choose one or more courses that are coming up soon, register for them, and add them to your schedule. Then, calendar just 30 minutes every 2-3 months to review the course offerings of your favorite bar associations and online providers so you will know what new classes they have added to their rosters. The variety of ways to get CLE these days makes it easy to fit into your schedule – options include everything from live courses to podcasts, CDs and DVDs. Having a strategic plan for your CLE fits nicely into your overall plan for success – it’s an investment in your continuing education that will help you offer your clients the highest quality legal representation while increasing your confidence, expertise, and ability to attract new business.
To your success,
Elise Holtzman, JD, ACC
The Lawyer’s Success Coach