Let me start by saying that I don’t like mandatory CLE (I’m not alone in this view either). Frankly, CLE doesn’t improve our profession and worse, gives the public a false sense of security that lawyers are competent. Let’s face it: those lawyers who take their obligations seriously will always take classes, follow relevant blogs and stay abreast of new case law without mandatory requirements. By contrast, those lawyers who don’t care about improving themselves will perfunctorily attend classes, tapping away on their smart phones or flip on a webinar at home and take a nap. Yet in the eyes of the bar, both of these types of lawyers are considered equally educated.
In addition, with so many lawyers struggling in this economy, particularly new grads, it just doesn’t seem fair to impose an additional financial burden. Which is why those of us lawyers who are fortunate enough to have the resources should pay new solos or unemployed lawyers to do CLE. Call it a CLE Scholarship Program if you will
Here’s what I’m thinking. Like many lawyers, I don’t always have a chance to read every energy related case that comes out of the federal appeals courts every year. Instead of playing catch up the next time a live appeal comes into my office, I could stay up to speed by taking the $1000 that I would otherwise spend on CLE to hire a newbie or unemployed lawyer to summarize the cases for me. Newbie learns some substantive law, and I keep abreast of what I need to know. It’s win-win for both of us.
Alternatively, sometimes, I want to learn more about issues that are so new that there isn’t even any CLE available. For example, back in 2008, I grew interested in the legal ethics issues related to social media for lawyers, but the bars hadn’t yet caught up. So I researched the issues myself, and it eventually morphed into this. Most lawyers who are engaged in their practice areas spot these new issues all the time, yet rarely have time to pursue them. Sure, we could wait a few years for the topic to become mainstream enough for a CLE, or, under my proposal, we could pay a newbie to research it and get our CLE that way.
My proposed CLE Scholarship Program offers better quality control than current CLE. If Newbie’s work doesn’t pass muster and he’s not willing to make the changes, then the supervising lawyer won’t approve his CLE request. And if the supervising lawyers didn’t turn in our work product or turned in something entirely substandard, we wouldn’t get credit either.
The CLE Scholarship Program would supplement rather than supplant traditional CLE offerings. But more importantly, it would rally support for CLE, and produce a generation of lawyers who just might pay it forward.