Have you ever wondered what your fellow attorneys are learning during their required CLE hours?
To stay competitive in the legal profession, it is important to educate yourself on a variety of topics, including changing social norms and the associated legal needs.
One way to do this is through professional responsibility CLE, which provides lawyers with an opportunity to go beyond well-established case law and explore how attorney conduct impacts the profession, the delivery of justice, and our society.
For example, the Commission on Professionalism is developing a CLE on person-centered language, which will launch next year. The ways we address one another have become more inclusive, and its impact is being felt in the law. For attorneys to successfully market their services and serve communities, they need to be aware of these cultural norms.
So, what areas of professional responsibility CLE are your fellow attorneys focusing on?
The PR CLE breakdown
The Illinois Supreme Court defines professional responsibility CLE as courses falling into these areas: professionalism, civility, ethics, diversity and inclusion, and mental health.
That is a pretty broad remit. What is interesting is where CLE providers (or those who develop and present CLEs) decide to focus their courses and which of these courses attorneys choose to take.
Let’s start with the basics. Lawyers are required to complete a minimum of 6 hours of professional responsibility CLE every two years (although ideally, they would do more), including a minimum of one hour focused on diversity and inclusion and one hour focused on mental health and substance abuse.
The chart below outlines the number of courses that fell into each area of professional responsibility in 2022.
Distribution of PR CLE
Based on this data, it would seem that lawyers view “legal ethics” as the area in most need of work by far. Examples of legal ethics courses from 2022 include:
- I’m The Best Lawyer in Town: And Other Things You Can’t Say (Ethically) When Branding or Marketing Your Law Practice 2022
- Most of What You Really Wanted to Know About Legal Ethics, You Already Learned in Kindergarten
- The Ethics of Working from Home
- “I’m Out of Order? You’re Out of Order!”: Civil Disobedience & Ethical Obligations In and Out of the Court
Now, look at the other numbers. We often read statistics on attorneys’ struggles with mental health and substance abuse and the profession’s continuing challenges when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Without taking anything away from the important topics covered under legal ethics, don’t these other areas deserve a little more focus?
To dig a little deeper, I took a look at the titles of the CLE courses that the Commission on Professionalism has approved over the past year. (The Commission approves courses as qualifying for professional responsibility CLE in Illinois.)
Here are some of the common keywords that were used in course titles.
Common keywords in DEI course titles
Common keywords in mental health and substance abuse course titles
Common keywords in civility course titles
Common keywords in professionalism course titles
Common keywords in ethics course titles
The data seem to suggest that when it comes to professional responsibility CLE, there is a lack of balance, both at the macro level (over half of the professional responsibility CLEs taken were in legal ethics) and at the micro level (for example, ‘bias’ as a theme dominates DEI).
Where should CLE providers focus?
So, what else should CLE providers focus? The resources below provide a deep dive into the current and future challenges facing lawyers.
- The ABA Practice Forward Survey report tells us how and where lawyers want to work, including tips for developing a culture that fosters well-being and DEI and maximizes the use of technology.
- The most recent NALP Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms shows some progress in areas when it comes to diversity but stagnation in many underrepresented groups. CLE providers could consider content that directly addresses these challenges and some of the solutions that have been shown to drive progress.
- The Clio Legal Trends report cites business and technology trends that are driving the future of the legal workplace.
- And finally, the Commission’s 2021 Survey on Professionalism identifies the areas in which most lawyers experience incivility (e.g., sarcastic or condescending attitude; misrepresenting or stretching the facts or negotiating in bad faith; inflammatory writings in correspondence, memos, briefs, or motions; and playing hardball [such as not agreeing to reasonable requests for extensions])
As you can see, there is an opportunity in 2023 to go beyond the basics and use data to inform professional responsibility CLE programming.
The legal profession is complex and expansive. I encourage providers and presenters to seek out and partner with experts in areas that have been traditionally less traveled and to develop a suite of content that reflects the multifaceted profession.
And as always, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to support and help you create truly impactful continuing legal education.