Professional Responsibility: 5 Tips for Developing Quality CLE

quality CLESo your bar committee Chair asked you to put together an hour long continuing legal education program that will qualify for professional responsibility credit. So, how do you develop quality CLE? Where do you begin? By developing learning goals.

“Huh?” is your likely response. “I’m a lawyer; not a teacher.”  Me too. But having attended numerous CLE programs over the last 25+ years and having spent considerable time analyzing the substance and theory of professionalism CLE programming since the inception of the Commission on Professionalism, I offer the following rather self-evident observation: The goal is not to have participants “get an hour of CLE” but to have them learn.

Quality CLE Tips

Here are five tips on how to start developing quality CLE:

1. Access general information by checking out the professional responsibility CLE guidelines and other teaching resources. It also is a good idea to look through the continuing legal education provider FAQs.

2.  Think about what course participants want and need, not about what “material should be covered.” Having an prominent speaker deliver a lecture, followed by limited questions and answers, is what we know and expect. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Retention is extremely low; generally under ten percent. Why? Such an approach violates the old proverb:

Tell me, I forget, show me, I remember, involve me, I understand, get me to think, I learn.”

Especially in this fast-paced high-pressure environment, lawyers want specific training that will add value to their lives. Be prepared to answer their need-to-know questions: Why do I need this? What is taught? How is it taught?

3. Consider the role of the participants’ experience. Unlike the education of children, where the role of the learners’ experience is disregarded in favor of maintaining the “knowledge superiority” of the teachers—the wisdom of which is beyond the scope of this article, in successful CLE, the prior experiences of the participants are treated as a resource. This is especially true in the area of professional responsibility, which generally is less about the transmission of information and more about the transformation of behavior in nuanced situations.

4. Draft concrete course learning objectives. To develop concrete learning objectives, you need to identify actions or behaviors that participants will be able to do as a result of the course. Although law is a mental pursuit, we are not seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but in order to be able to do something better. For example, complete the following statement, “At the class’s completion, participants will be able to…”

5. Design the course so that learning objectives can be met. If one of your goals is that participants be able to do something when they leave—as it should be—then the class should contain an activity where participants actually do it. Role play or case simulations are particularly suitable course formats for exploring such topics in the area of professional responsibility. (Of course, this applies equally to any area of CLE. For example, if your goal is to have participants be able to draft a certain type of document, have them draft, edit, and re-draft in the course.) Consider hypotheticals with various fact-pattern changes, allowing problem-solving by small groups.

Embarking on this process will entail a lot of work, and it is probably outside your comfort zone. The result will be a course that is outside the comfort zone of the participants. And that is where learning happens.


  • Review CLE guidelines developed by the Commission on Professionalism.
  • Think about why lawyers would want to learn something; not what “material should be covered.”
  • Consider participating lawyers’ expertise as a resource.
  • Set learning objectives. Complete the question: As a result of this course, participants will be able to [actions/behaviors].
  • Design the course to accomplish the learning objectives; involve participants in an activity or process.



This article was adapted from the writings of Randall B. Christison as published in the Professional Development Quarterly.

The new paragraph added to Supreme Court Rule 708, addressing the scope and duties of the Committee on Character and Fitness, provides in full :  “The essential eligibility requirements for the practice of law include the following:  (1)the ability to learn, to recall what has been learned, to reason, and to analyze; (2)the ability to communicate clearly and logically with clients, attorneys, courts and others; (3) the ability to exercise good judgment in conducting one’s professional business; (4) the ability to conduct oneself with a high degree of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in all professional relationships and with respect to all legal obligations; (5) the ability to conduct oneself with respect for and in accordance with the law and the Illinois Rules of Professional conduct; (6)the ability to avoid acts that exhibit disregard for the health, safety, and welfare of others; (7) the ability to conduct oneself diligently and reliably in fulfilling all obligations to clients, attorneys, courts, creditors, and others; (8) the ability to use honesty and good judgment in financial dealings on behalf of oneself, clients, and others; (9) the ability to comply with deadlines and time constraints; and (10) the ability to conduct oneself properly and in a manner that engenders respect for the law and the profession.”  (Emphasis added.)

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