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The Wild West of CLE

December is a wild month for continuing legal education in Canada – six provinces have mandatory CPD deadlines. That means over 50,000 lawyers are rushing to complete their annual minimum CPD hours, and opportunistic providers are working hard to capitalize on that demand. The need for so many lawyers to earn hours quickly and – at least for small firm lawyers – at little cost, has led to a literal explosion of CLE procrastinator marathons – mostly on-demand or video/audio replays.

In provinces with a “buddy requirement”, ie. two or more lawyers must view/listen to and talk about the recording together to get credit, many firms simply convert an empty boardroom into a 24 hour theatre where members drop in whenever they have time, and watch whatever is playing with whoever else is there. Even among the most senior members of the bar, it’s become a laughable practice. In places where there is no buddy requirement like Ontario where lawyers can now earn up to 6 hours of credit for watching archive videos with no interactivity or buddy requirement, the result can be even more bleak – a recording playing to an empty chair, or never played at all but the purchase receipt safely tucked away for audit purposes.

Suddenly lawyers’ usual priorities when selecting CLE – topic, practice relevance, speakers, provider reputation, etc. – start to fade away, and as the pressure of the reporting deadline grows, the focus becomes getting as many hours as possible as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. Is that what the regulators intended when they introduced mandatory CLE? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. These things are complicated of course, and I’m not suggesting I have a magic solution. I’m just offering a comment on the landscape and a preview of the future – a warning bell, if you will.

Mandatory CLE in Canada, much like mandatory CLE in the US, started – I think – with good intentions, even if the research wasn’t really there to support the tenuous connections with enhancing competence. But as the old saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And while Hell is obviously not a fair description of the current CLE market in Canada, we are definitely in the Wild West. New providers with all sorts of motives are cropping up every day and guess what? Lawyers are registering for their programs.

Ironically, in the long-term, lawyers will be the stakeholders least affected by mandatory CLE. Other than the financial hit for whatever 12 hours of CPD a year costs (which many lawyers would willingly spend anyway), and a more cynical attitude towards the role of regulators and the value of CLE, I don’t think, generally speaking, much will change in lawyers’ worlds because of mandatory CLE. Instead, the real winners and losers of mandatory CLE will be those that initially most enthusiastically embraced it – traditional, established providers, including associations and regulators – and industry disruptors most established providers didn’t anticipate. Who will fall into which category is yet to be seen.

Much like the Wild West, mandatory CLE will become a fascinating story of conquest on one hand, and survival, persistence, and merging on the other. I predict that the most agile among today’s providers will survive and even thrive through the disruption, but five years from now, many CLE departments, if not whole organizations, will be gone. Over the next couple of months, I’ll try to break down the different types of players in the market, and share suggestions for long-term success for some of them. Stay tuned.


ALA Annual Conference 2013

Want to find out what’s on the mind of law firm leaders and administrators? Pack your bags for next year’s Association of Legal Administrators’ Annual Conference taking place Sunday, April 14 to Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, now part of Marriott, in National Harbor, Maryland, eight miles south of Washington, D.C.

ALA’s Annual Conference is the premier education and networking event for legal management professionals from around the globe. It offers intensive learning, networking, idea sharing and camaraderie, as well as opportunities for face-to-face meetings with industry experts, peers and business partners.

Featuring more than 75 high quality educational sessions in five core areas – Communication and Organizational Management, Financial Management, Human Resources Management, Legal Industry/Business Management and Operations Management – it is an event worthy of a spot in every PD professional’s calendar.

This year’s keynote speakers include Peter Sheahan, CEO of ChangeLabs, known for inspiring innovative business thinking and creating lasting behavioral change and Andrés Tapia, President of Diversity Best Practices a preeminent diversity and inclusion think tank and consultancy.

To find out more, go to the ALA’s website at http://www.alanet.org/conf/2013/default.html.

Head Scratching Holiday Slogans

December offers three unique, timing-related marketing angles for CLE providers:

1. holiday themes;

2. New Year themes; and,

3. fear mongering about compliance with December 31 CPD deadlines.

It’s a wacky mix and produces some of the best and the worst of marketing tag lines we see all year. I’ll write about the “last chance for CPD” campaigns in a future post but here are just a few of the seasonal slogans that have hit my inbox this month.

Save them someplace you’ll remember and build on them next year or send them to the recycling bin – it’s up to you. There are definitely some head scratchers here:

  • Treat yourself to something special this season…
  • CPD, all wrapped up…
  • Add us to your holiday shopping list…
  • Tie up December loose ends…
  • Check CPD off your December to do list…
  • Great CPD gets better for the holidays…
  • Our gift to you this holiday….
  • Get a jump start on next year’s CLE requirement…
  • Kick start 2013 with…
  • Don’t repeat the year-end rush. Get your 2013 CPD all at once…
  • Resolve to get your CPD out of the way early next year….

And finally, although it pains me, “The gift that keeps on giving” and “The early bird gets the worm”.


Tools for the Road Warrior

I travel a lot for work so colleagues often ask me to suggest a good holiday gift for other travelers they know. In my experience, most people who travel a lot are the same kind of people who buy whatever they need, so this list is probably unhelpful, but here are my favourite/must-have travel accessories anyway:

1. A great laptop – lightweight, with a long battery life, and compact enough to be able to use in economy class when flying. I have the Sony Vaio Z Ultrathin. 13 inches, 2.5 pounds and a 7 to 8 hour battery life. My only complaint is that the tracker pad is both non-responsive and hyper-responsive which means, if I don’t want to lose my composure, I have to use a mouse. Not ideal for planes.

2. A reliable smartphone. I have the Samsung Galaxy S III. Excellent battery life – I can go two days without recharging it – and I can do almost everything I need to from it except create documents. It is my office on the road. I love it and I haven’t had a chance to learn to use even a fraction of the features.

3. An iPod Nano (or some other music source). I may be able to do this with my Samsung but why bother? Music is essential on the road, especially during pre-takeoff and landing announcements, in cabs with overly talkative drivers, on planes and trains next to over socialized passengers, and whenever you’re just too tired to interact and need to decompress.

4. A versatile travel bag with separate compartments for a change of clothes, paperwork and a laptop. I take a lot of flak from colleagues because I carry a backpack. Most of my trips are 24 or 48 hour so unless I absolutely have to, I don’t check a bag. I also have a compact roller bag but I still prefer the backpack. My current backpack is starting to show signs of road weariness so I’m on the hunt for a replacement. Tumi is a good starting point….

5. In my early days as a business traveler, I left many, many power cords for all kinds of devices behind – in hotels, conference venues, airport lounges, etc. One day I stumbled across an innovative little bag by iGo that provided a single power cord and multiple tips that you can change whenever you want to power a different device. I’m better trained now so I don’t usually forget cords, and the iGo bag, when the power cord is in it, can be a little heavy, but wow what a nifty little lifesaver. Try finding the only kind of power cord your laptop will accept at 10 pm in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I dare you.

6. A large, lightweight scarf that can do double duty as a nose cover/blanket and fashion accessory. Temperatures on planes and trains are unpredictable so it’s always nice to have something cosy to wrap around you. And if you’re lost on the nose cover part, you don’t travel economy with me.

Finally, because I do a lot of my traveling November through March, I always ask and hope (and sometimes pray) for co-operative weather. Unfortunately, not everything can be ordered online. Fingers crossed on the prayer days.