“I Can Earn CLE for That?”: Exploring Non-Traditional CLE

non-traditional cleThe regular readers of my blogs (Bob, Lynda, and that guy on LinkedIn that wants to help me exceed my sales goals), will know that I promote the idea that traditional CLE as we understand it (i.e., a formalized learning event) is just one way to gain expertise on a topic.

Traditional CLE often serves as a great starting point, but what comes next? How do you move from student to adopter to subject matter expert? That’s where non-traditional methods of learning, such as research or teaching, come in. These non-traditional activities can take you to the next level of understanding and application.

All this is great, you say, but what has it got to do with CLE? Well, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 795(d) covers exactly that – non-traditional methods for earning CLE.

How to Earn Non-Traditional CLE (the abridged version)

Let’s start with the TL:DR (too long, didn’t read) version. Non-traditional CLE can (although not always) include:

  • Participating in mentoring (like the Commission’s lawyer-to-lawyer mentoring program)
  • Teaching CLE courses
  • Teaching law courses part-time
  • Legal scholarship (i.e., writing law books and law review articles)

Check with your law firm, bar association, or law school on how they can support you in these options.

How to Earn Non-Traditional CLE (the expanded version)

Sometimes we don’t explore things because we don’t know about them; other times it’s because we don’t know how to get started.

It’s this second part that I would like to focus on. I’m speaking to those who would like to teach CLE, or write, or guest lecture, but feel they don’t have the experience, name recognition, or just wouldn’t be a good fit.

To find out more, I spoke to experts in CLE and professional development at law firms, bar associations, and law schools to understand what they say to someone looking to learn more.

Before we dive in, it’s worth noting that all my interviewees confirmed they’re actively looking for different perspectives, presenters, and topics to offer, regardless of the presenter’s location, experience, or employer. In fact, they’re often looking to expand their range of contributors.

Gina Roers-Liemandt, Director of MCLE and Professional Development at the ABA, confirmed that they are always seeking diversity in experiences and diversity in ideas. “Don’t measure your value to a program solely on your years of experience or your alma mater,” she said.

Where to Start

Here are ideas for attorneys who are looking to take advantage of non-traditional CLE options.

Teach a CLE

The move to remote learning has made it easier than ever to dip your toe into delivering a CLE for your organization or bar association, as barriers like out-of-pocket travel expenses have been removed for the largely volunteer cohort of CLE presenters.

Most CLE providers have a contact form on their CLE pages and resources to help you submit an idea for CLE. [We also provide resources for developing a CLE on our website.] Providers also often support you in securing CLE credit after the event.

Not sure how to decide on a topic? Jennifer Byrne, CLE Director at the Chicago Bar Association, recommends getting involved in bar association committee events in areas you’re passionate about. Connecting with committee leadership, learning about any gaps in content, and working with colleagues to formulate a proposal are great ways to test your ideas with a supportive network.

Jeanne Heaton, Director of CLE at the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), said becoming active in a bar association committee or section that focuses on your practice area is a great way to identify potential topics for CLEs, such as new case law or legislative developments, while earning CLE credit for the time you invest in attending meetings.

Heaton also suggested submitting a video for the ISBA’s “Quick Takes For Your Practice” as a way to build confidence and become known as a speaker. These efforts are a great way “to give back to the legal community, while advancing your reputation as an authority on your topic,” Heaton said.

Prefer to keep things in-house? Trying reaching out to various firm committees. Lewis Marin, CLE Specialist at Winston & Strawn LLP, said attorneys are being encouraged to take a more holistic approach to professional development. Moreover, he sees a real benefit in getting increased exposure to senior leaders through teaching CLE.

His advice for anyone considering submitting a proposal to a committee leader: “Be solid on your topic and keep it relevant.”

Write for a legal journal

Everyone I spoke to said that writing for a law journal is an excellent way to get your name out there and challenge yourself on a topic you’re passionate about. Most bar associations and law schools list the article submission guidelines for their journals on their website.

If you would like to start smaller, try writing for a committee newsletter first. You may not get CLE credit for the article, but it’s a great way to refine your writing skills for larger audiences.

For those new to the profession, the ISBA has a young writers contest. The winning author gets their article published in the Illinois Bar Journal.

Teach a law school course

Cindy Fountaine, Professor of Law at Southern Illinois University School of Law, is a firm believer in lifelong learning for attorneys. She said that law schools often have many excellent classes that offer lawyers real value – along with CLE credit.

The policy for taking law school courses as a practicing attorney varies, so make sure you understand the specifics before signing up.

When it comes to teaching law school courses, Fountaine recommends reaching out to local law professors or administrators to discuss opportunities to guest lecture.

“Students love to hear from practicing lawyers, not just professors,” she said. “They want to learn about their experiences in the real world and the advice they would offer.”

Invest in Yourself

Teaching, whether by communicating or doing, is an established methodology for learning, especially when you internalize the content. While non-traditional CLE activities may seem like a heavy lift, you’re really just committing to developing yourself, your reputation, and your expertise, all while giving back to the legal profession.

Good luck on your path less traveled.

Please log in to your MCLE dashboard to apply for non-traditional CLE credit.

Not ready to jump in? Earn 5.25 hours of traditional CLE credit while exploring ideas for future non-traditional CLE at the Commission’s The Future Is Now: Legal Services conference. Join us virtually to debate future law, well-being, and diversity and inclusion on April 27-29. Register here: thefutureisnow.2civility.org/registration-2021.

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