How Would You Improve CLE?

Is continuing legal education the professional equivalent of renewing your driver’s licence – requiring little of you beyond that you show up, pay your fee and get your picture taken?

That was one of the questions asked during Tuesday night’s Twitter chat this week, where the discussion focused on the utility – or futility – of CLE.

While some participants made the argument that CLE is useful – Karen Dyck, for example, says lawyers will often have an “Aha!” moment that will send them back to the office to implement lessons learned. Sara Cohen says CLE is essential, “especially for small practitioners as a chance to learn from others.”

With a few exceptions, however, CLE didn’t get much respect from the participants in the third #cbafutureschat this month.

Law student Emily Alderson says CLE “sure suffers from an image problem among young lawyers.”

Dyck thinks that might have something to do with the lack of curriculum and the ambivalence of learners.

Joshua Lenon, a lawyer and director of communications at Clio, which offers web-based law-firm management tools, has experience presenting CLE sessions, has a great deal of experience with the latter.

“I often have to wrangle attention from lawyers that think my talks will be another old-style CLE,” Lenon wrote.

Moderator Omar Ha-Redeye asked, “Are you saying they actually want old-style, low-end engagement?”

“They want CLE credit for sitting in back, reading a newspaper,” Lenon replied. “Because they’ve gotten that before.”

Lenon blames law societies for failing to commit “time, bodies and funding” to individualized training.

So how do you improve CLE? Natalie McFarlane suggested covering topics of more practical use, such as business model and service design. Megan Seto, who says “lunch and learns are single-sided conversations with free lunch,” suggested adding a mandatory pro bono component.

James Wegener noted that other professionals, such as nurses, are also required to engage in continuing education, but Ha-Redeye pointed out that they’re also required to demonstrate that they’ve learned something from it – through, for example, regular CPR recertification.

Measurable outcomes came up more than once as a way of improving CLE. Mitch Kowalski asked whether there is any data to show that having mandatory continuing education actually results in reduced claims and complaints. Dyck argued that there’s not necessarily a causal relationship between the two, but in any case she’s not aware of any North American jurisdictions that collect such data – though she suggested there might be money in it for someone who wanted to create tracking software that did so.

“I wonder if CLE does anything but create revenue for OBA & LSUC,” Mitch Kowalski tweeted.

“That’s the cynic’s question, isn’t it?” Dyck answered. “Hard to dispute given the lack of evidence of effectiveness.”


  1. Let’s drop the pretense and intellectual dishonesty.

    Mitch is correct that the current CLE model is a cash cow for some of the sponsoring agencies. But that fact is irrelevant to the adequacy of the model.

    Where I’ve written “reading” or “understanding”, below, the term should be understood to mean whatever process one uses to study and learn, adequately, the content of CLE material.

    Let’s stipulate that CLE material is usually sufficient that a person capable of understanding it adequately, and prepared to devote the time required to understand, it adequately. That’s because, if it’s not, any form of regime for testing whether one has understood the material is pointless.

    The efficacy of the CLE model depends on the quality of the instruction and the integrity of the participant-students, but mostly the integrity of the latter.

    That’s because, for most CLE subjects, so long as the CLE material is adequate, the fact that one has a law degree implies that one is capable of understanding the material by whatever means learning by reading or listening or (for those of you who are Eddorians* masquerading as humans) however it is that you absorb knowledge.

    That’s because the fact that you have a law degree, and are practising law, is supposed to imply;

    (1) the exams you passed in law school were meant to test your knowledge of the subject, not merely ensure that enough of you passed to meet the school’s grading requirements and ensure the professor got a good rating in the student’s “rate the professor” regime;

    (2) where the jurisdiction has bar licensing exams, you passed them because you knew the subject matter adequately;

    (3) you have, since, continued to maintain an adequate level of knowledge in the areas in which you practice by self-study;**

    (4) you accept that you will be a student for the rest of your practicing life.

    We all know that that’s exactly what the fact we have law degrees, and are practising law means, right?

    That’s because none of us know anybody who is articling, or practicing, in a way that would make one wonder about any of 1, 2, 3 or 4.

    You want some level of certainty in the efficacy of CLE that doesn’t depend on the integrity of the participants?

    At least until the science fiction idea of a teaching device that can imprint the required knowledge into one’s brain becomes a reality?

    It’s called mandatory relicencing exams.

    You don’t want that?

    Stop whining about the (in)adequacy of CLE, unless your point is the material, itself, isn’t adequate.


    The fault,, dear readers, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.

    Get over it.

    (Whether Frey and Henley understood the point of the “old Billy” line is irrelevant.)

    Come to think of it, it would liven up CLE proceedings if that song became mandatory at the beginning of CLE programs, for the same reason that national anthems are mandatory at the beginning of most North American professional sporting events. Do you think the Eagles would agree?

    Or, maybe, we should use this. (David Frost was wrong for a number of reasons. One is that the Beatles hadn’t yet officially broken up. If you don’t listen to the end, skip to it to hear who the next guest was.)

    *Substitute your own cultural references if you’re from a different generation. Or universe.

    ** It’s a good thing I proof-read this before posting it. The penultimate form had “self study”.

  2. Sigh – I didn’t claim to be an adequate proof-reader. The italicized words are missing from the quoted paragraph.

    Let’s stipulate that CLE material is usually sufficient that a person capable of understanding it adequately, and prepared to devote the time required to understand, it adequately, will understand it adequately.

    And, there’s an extra comma after “fault” in the unattributed slightly modifed quotation from you should know who and where, at least if you received the traditional form of English language schooling in the the English-speaking parts of the Commonwealth and, I’ll guess, most of the U.S.A; or, if you’ve read anything by Harold Bloom. I’ll leave it to the millennials to correct me for theirs.

  3. What metrics are they talking about with CLE and the number of claims? Wouldn’t LawPro have the data Kowalski is looking for? Just look at the numbrr of claims over the years since mandatory CLE was brought in.

  4. The metrics won’t do one any good unless the data permits one to distinguish between errors due to lack of knowledge and errors due to carelessness (or some other reason) rather than lack of knowledge.

  5. If you’re interested in the thinking behind mandatory CPD rules, take a look at the reports of the Law Society of BC’s Lawyer Education Task Force.
    Here at CLEBC, we’re happy to discuss our work at any time; don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  6. Any educational endeavour depends on the commitment of the instructors and the learners. It is also reasonable to ask whether CLE must have grand ambitions, or whether more modest ambitions are sufficient. Perhaps, for example, CLE does not need to reduce professional negligence or misconduct. Perhaps it can result in a lawyer being a bit better than he or she would have been otherwise. Perhaps it can result in a lawyer feeling more confident to deal with a problem than s/he would have been otherwise. Perhaps it can result in a lawyer being slightly more humble about what s/he knows and doesn’t know, and taking the necessary steps to fill the gaps.

    The challenge is as it always is in educational environments, how do you create/foster engagement? Obviously in an ideal world compulsory CLE would be unnecessary because lawyers would be committed to challenging themselves, and to learning new things. But if it isn’t, do we just accept that those opportunities won’t be pursued? I’m not sure that’s a better answer, even if CLE’s achievable goals are relatively modest.

  7. Lawyers get off easy with CLE. Accountants of the major brands need to do 40 hours a year, at least.

    When I was in private practice, I found CLE sessions worthwhile if they showed me that I already knew what the experts knew: ‘OK, I’ve got that right, then’. Of course if I didn’t before, I did to some extent after.

    But some of it is teaching technique, too. Probably fewer talking-heads sessions and more interactivity would be good. There are lots of group learning techniques that are compatible with 50-minute CLE sessions, or panel discussions.

    That said, I agree with David that the integrity of the learners has a lot to do with the results.