This Is How You Do It

Recently we asked the ATL audience to help us get an empirical grip on the market for Continuing Legal Education. More than 340 attorneys from around the country — a good mix of law firm associates and partners, solo practitioners, in-house counsel, and others — shared with us their preferences and practices in meeting their annual CLE requirements.

The proliferation of CLE vendors leads to a potentially unwieldy variety of choices in terms of course subject matter, price, and quality. How are these, and other analyzing variables such as format and timing, prioritized in the decision to find and use programs?

We asked survey respondents to rank the relative desirability of these CLE program formats: Remote (i.e., an event at a specific time that is not in-person, such as a videoconference), In-person (i.e., a live event at a specific time), and On-demand (i.e., a program that be accessed remotely at any time, such as a pre-recorded webinar). The results were as follows:

1. On-demand (1.73) (i.e., a program that be accessed remotely at any time, such as a pre-recorded webinar)

2. In-person (1.92)

3. Remote (2.35)

There appear to be two broad camps. The “on-demand” camp embraces a technology-enabled experience of convenience and efficiency. Those preferring the In-person format presumably are looking for a more traditional experience, combining classroom instruction with opportunities for networking with peers. Interestingly, the scores for the “In-House” option showed the greatest “variance,” with respondents generally rating In-person classes as either the most desirable format or the least. If we break out the responses by position, law firm partners typically express the strongest preference (1.44 vs. 2.09 for associates) for live programs.

Survey respondents were presented with a list of nine factors used in selecting CLE programs and asked to rank them in order of importance. The results (on a scale on 1 -9, with 1 highest):

1. Relevance to practice area (mean score of 2.24)
2. Price (3.33)
3. Location (4.39)
4. Learning opportunity (4.66)
5. Upcoming deadline (4.71)
6. Presence of third party (e.g., employer) paying for program (5.84)
7. Format (6.11)
8. Networking opportunity (6.34)
9. Identity of CLE provider (7.37)

The clear primacy of “relevance,” combined with the relatively high placement of “learning opportunity” as a decisive factor, suggest there is less cynicism than some might expect about CLE requirements. Rather than a purely obligatory hoop one must jump through, most hope to find actual value in these programs.

By far, the greatest variation in this question’s results concerned “third party paying.” For many, this factor is utterly irrelevant, for others (hello, Biglaw), it is among most salient factors.

The next highest level of variation concerned the “upcoming deadline” factor. Clearly, there is a cohort of attorneys whose CLE search is deadline-driven or “reactive.” At the other end of the spectrum are their peers who are unfazed by deadlines: presumably they had their yearly CLE plan meticulously mapped out well ahead of time.

Finally, nobody seems to care about the identity of the provider. Attorneys are essentially provider-agnostic, so long as the course meets their more pressing priorities.

The information overload confronted by the CLE seeker creates a “search cost” issue — how much time, energy, and money are attorneys willing to spend in researching options? We asked lawyers how they actually find the CLE programs that they attend or consume. Respondents could select as many choices as were applicable