Business of Law

Economic Bust, CLE Boom?

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As financial markets pinball from one extreme to another, at­torneys are lining up for continuing legal education to bone up on subprime mortgages, mortgage-backed securities and real estate workouts.

“Almost all of our programs that have those topics in them are doing well,” says Julene Franki, executive director of American Law Institute-American Bar Association, a Philadelphia-based CLE provider.

At West LegalEdCenter, a webcast on bank failures recently drew an online crowd, and bankruptcy courses have also done well this year, according to Steve Seemer, senior director of content at the New York City firm. “We do a lot of hot-topic events, and we derive our topics by examining the impact of what’s happening on Wall Street.”

Seemer says today’s economy-related topics are drawing interest similar to West’s past big-draw programs. At ALI-ABA, demand hasn’t reached the level of interest for past programs that covered new regulations or major legislative changes—yet.

“This isn’t as big since most of the information coming out is in the nature of news and not new regulations yet,” says Franki. “As new laws and regulations come out, we expect even bigger turnouts.”

In 44 states and U.S. territories CLE training is mandatory, a requirement that has spread in fits and starts. Most states implemented mandatory CLE before 1995, and only a handful—New York and Illinois among them—have joined the pack since then.


But mandatory or not, speed is critical in making courses on hot topics available, so an increasing number are provided as webcasts or teleconferences. Business models for the organizations are built around getting in-demand programs out as soon as possible, so there’s no added expense in reacting to hot news. “When we cre­ated our company, the whole foundation was hot topics,” says Seemer. “We do a lot of them online because that allows us to do them very quickly. With live events, the sheer logistics take weeks to put together.”

ABA CLE programming has more than doubled in the past five years, from 133 programs in 2003-04 to 269 in 2007-08, according to Rick Vitten­son, director of the ABA Center for CLE in Chicago. During the same time, the number of teleconferences and web­­casts ballooned from 110 to 244.

ALI-ABA is also set up to react quickly to news and trends, part of which involves building relationships with lawyers who will share their expertise on short notice. “Our systems are set up to try to get our pro­grams out first,” Franki says. “We’ve also spent decades cultivating relationships with potential faculty.”

However, in-person courses aren’t going the way of the eight-track. “Despite all the technology,” says Vittenson, “live, in-person meet­ings continue to be the most pop­ular because of the networking opportunities.”

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