Congratulations! You survived law school and are about to enter the legal profession as a practicing attorney. Your days of sitting in classrooms are over, right? Well, not quite. The days of exams and grades may be behind you, but as a member of the legal profession, you will likely be expected to take continuing education courses each year.
These “CLE” courses are designed to help ensure that you continue your professional development after your initial admission to the bar; depending on your jurisdiction, you will be expected to sit for a number of live and/or online courses to keep your license active. Jurisdictions differ in their requirements for continuing legal education; the American Bar Association recommends 15 credit hours per year but many states require 12 hours.
This probably does not sound like good news. You are likely very busy trying to feel professional, build a reputation in a law firm, trying to attract and serve clients, and learning how to practice law outside of the hallowed (and in retrospect, safe) world of hypothetical law problems. Real people and companies are depending on you to know what you are doing; at the same time, you are just trying to keep your head above water as you learn how to bill in six-minute increments and figure out how to interact with support staff.
On top of this big adjustment from school to the “real world,” your spouse/significant other/mom/dog/friends may be wondering why you don’t have more free time now that you have finished up your bar exam study. If you were a full-time student just a few short months ago, you may be longing for the days when you had time for leisurely coffee dates and reading interesting cases in the spring sunshine, and when you had the freedom to wear yoga pants or a baseball cap to class.
When free time is at a premium and going to a mandatory class doesn’t seem to fit into your google calendar, what can you do?
First, recognize that you may be romanticizing your law school days. Remember outlines, those dreadful four hour exams, the professor who droned on about administrative law, and, most recently, the bar examination? It likely wasn’t all fun, games, and exciting intellectual discourse.
Second, you went to school to BE a lawyer, after all, and you should focus on the positives of your new challenges. So, is there any way to get something out of the CLEs? I offer you three tips to consider:
I. Take a Class to Advance Your Practice
Use your CLE time to learn something that you need to help you succeed. The topics available to choose from are endless and, in most cases, your employer will cover the cost of CLE. You may have learned about taking depositions in a legal practice class, or reviewed basic wills in a trusts and estates course, but soon you may take a deposition or draft a will for a real live client which is a big responsibility. Take advantage of a how-to class to help you feel more confident in one of your new job responsibilities.
If you feel like you are on solid ground with your practice skills, look ahead at what opportunities might come next and make that your target. Alternatively, dive deep into a subject by finding a course in the substantive law of your practice focus. In short, pick a CLE that truly does meet the goal of advancing your professional development.
II. Alternatively, Find a Class That Has Nothing to Do With Your Practice
CLE courses do not need to bear any relationship (really) to your area of practice, and you will find that many approved providers have been extremely creative in designing courses to appeal to the inquiring mind, the bored student, the movie aficionado, or the tired soul. Some courses may bear no discernable relationship to the law, but if they are approved courses from approved providers in your jurisdiction, they “count” as CLE hours. Consider the following sampling of CLE courses:
- CSI (promising an explanation of crime scene processing, complete with graphic crime scene photos)
- Lawyers at the Movies: Learning from the Top Legal Movies and TV Shows of All Time
- Murder in Marple (unraveling the conspiracies behind a 1949 patricide)
- LGBTQ Rights Under the Trump Administration
- Implications of Artificial Intelligence for Future Lawyers
- Stranger Than Fiction: The Real World Of Bioethics
- Stress Relief for Lawyers (complete with cappuccino and chair-massages, which was one of my personal favorites)
In short, search for a class that sounds like it might offer you a chance to learn something new or just enjoy a good speaker.
III. Work Through It
If you still can’t get enthused about spending 10-15 hours in a classroom every year, remember that today’s technology allows you to take the office everywhere. You can safely take a seat in the back of the room and keep working during your CLE and, in most classes, you won’t stand out like a rude or sore thumb. You are responsible for seat time (or online time, in the case of online hours) and, to look on the bright side, there are no tests that must be passed to receive credit.
For more tips from the Bar Exam Toolbox and the Law School Toolbox that can help you transition to your new professional life: