Creating a CLE? Better Read This First (Perspective)

Editor’s Note: The author of this post is an assistant general counsel for Microsoft-based in Chicago. 

By Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation

Most practicing lawyers need to periodically obtain certain Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits to retain their local legal bar credentials and help ensure that their legal knowledge and skills do not grow stale so they can better serve their clients. CLEs can be delivered by accredited organizations in-person or via online and attendees need to certify their attendance.

In my experience as both a CLE attendee and as a CLE presenter/panelist, the quality of CLE sessions can vary widely. Here’s some best practices in developing and delivering high-quality CLEs:

Pick Impactful CLE Topics & Speakers

Selecting CLE topics and speakers that are relevant, focused and responsive to the needs of lawyers is absolutely vital. Be sure to convene a diverse team of legal professionals to thoughtfully determine the appropriate CLE subject matter areas and speakers. As you pick CLE topics keep the interests of your potential CLE audience top of mind and consider topics that involve leading issues (e.g., cybersecurity, data privacy, compliance), newer developments (e.g., the impact of Brexit, medical marijuana, artificial intelligence) and traditional areas (e.g., professional responsibility, intellectual property).

Embrace Diversity in CLE Speakers

Please pay special attention in identifying and selecting qualified CLE speakers that come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Unfortunately, throughout my career I’ve attended way too many CLEs where there was a profound lack of diversity in CLE speakers. Embracing diversity makes all of us better lawyers, better people and will make a CLE session even more rewarding. If you are involved in selecting CLE speakers and see a lack diverse candidates, please speak up.

Make the CLE Super Interesting

I’ve also attended some incredibly boring and long-winded CLEs throughout my career — many of which are eerily reminiscent of many of my law school classes. CLE speakers — whether they are formal presenters, moderators or panelists – need to invest the time to properly prepare in order to deliver a compelling CLE session. As a CLE speaker be full of energy and enthusiasm, be bold, display your personality, engage in storytelling, be theatrical, don’t read from a script, be innovative (e.g., give a pop quiz) and if you use slides jazz them up by embracing tools like Microsoft Sway.

Be Practical, Not Theoretical

Develop CLE content that will have actual practical application to CLE attendees — many of whom have limited resources and are overworked. Create and provide key “takeaways” that are easily understandable and which attendees can actually incorporate into their everyday practice as lawyers.

CLE Attendees Must Be “All In”

CLE attendees also have a critical role to play in high-quality CLEs by providing their undivided attention to speakers during CLE sessions. While of course it is so easy for us to multi-task or become distracted by our devices during CLE sessions, embrace the “growth mindset” (please see my earlier article here) by remaining focused in CLEs. Not only will you gain knowledge and become a better attorney, but you will be paying your respect to CLE speakers who have spent considerable time preparing for their sessions.

Leverage Technology

I recently attended a CLE and received two very large books from the CLE provider – and once again I felt like I was back in law school. While those books contained absolutely great content, perhaps that content could have more easily delivered via a flash drive, via a link embedded in an email or via LinkedIn SlideShare? Another CLE that I recently attended did a terrific job embracing technology by enabling attendees to text anonymous questions in real-time to the CLE panel moderator’s device so that she could pose those questions during the panel’s Q&A session.

Use Social Media

Social media — especially LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook — are terrific platforms for CLE providers to amplify their CLEs and drive attendance. Social media also provides opportunities for CLE providers, speakers and attendees to sustain the CLE subject matter conversation before, during and after CLE sessions via their posts on social media. Consider creating a specific LinkedIn Group for your CLE in order to share even more knowledge.

Best of luck organizing or participating in your next CLE!

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