Trial Briefs

CLE Is In Our DNA 

February 14, 2024   |   Shannon Leskin

How We Share Has Changed, But We Will Never Stop Sharing 

My first assignment when I started as a consultant for NCAJ in the fall of 2019 was to recruit sponsors for CLE programs. I knew something about continuing ed, having produced programs when I worked with doctors and mental health professionals and in a variety of nonprofit sectors but after seeing NCAJ members in action on a few Fridays, it was clear that these folks were engaged on a level that set them apart.  

I remember thinking, “This is an incredible commitment to supporting each other.” I also realized that it was a lot of work.  

What I did not know at the time was the history of NCAJ CLE. Way back in the dark ages before email and the Internet, social media and Zoom, iPhones and AI, the only opportunities members had to learn from one another and grow in the profession was meeting in person. That sharing of knowledge and experiences formed the foundation of NCAJ’s CLE programing. Quality and original CLE programs are the hallmarks of our educational offerings. It’s in the DNA of NCAJ.  

Here we are some four years later, and I am the executive director, and NCAJ’s CLE program finds itself at a crossroads. 

In the years since I first experienced NCAJ CLE, we have survived a global pandemic. We are still processing the many ways that the pandemic and quarantine changed how we perceive and interact with the world at large and with one another. One thing I am sure of is that we changed, and we are not going back to the way things were.  

Virtual Is the New Normal 

During the pandemic we all learned to pivot. It was the buzz word of all things NCAJ and most of all for our CLE programming. In what seemed like a blink of an eye we were creating all-virtual CLE programs. We had this new, shiny tool, Zoom, that we all embraced like a life jacket. Suddenly we could all be together again, and we could share and learn from each other. CLE programming flourished. 

I like to think that’s because we used the extra time we had to share knowledge and keep the NCAJ community together and strong. That is what we did because that is who we are: a strong community of trial lawyers committed to each other and the profession.  

So, why are we at a crossroads? We all developed a new expectation during the pandemic: getting what we want when we want it how we want it. We have food from great restaurants left at our doorstep. We can watch any type of programing imaginable on our multiple devices. We have trucks deliver goods to our front doors that pre-pandemic we drove to a store to buy. CLE programming is no different. Members like the flexibility of being able to attend a CLE virtually if some unforeseen event happens and they can’t attend in person. It’s the world we live in, and it’s the new normal. We must meet our members where they are and not try and stick to an old model.  

Additionally, CLE offerings are everywhere. Free is readily available to all, and for-profit companies are constantly trying to gain market share. The competition is growing, and it is not going to end any time soon. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on the NCAJ CLE staff and our members who chair and co-chair the CLE programs.  

Devising a New Plan  

We have had the privilege of having NCAJ member Anna Kalarites as our Education Vice President for two years. She has seen first-hand the difficulties of the changing landscape and has been with us in lock step trying to think through the challenges and implement new strategies.  

In the summer of 2023, we presented a more in-depth training process for CLE section chairs. We now monitor registration numbers and pivot to virtual-only presentations when it’s clear that in-person attendance at upcoming CLEs is lower than expected. In December 2023, NCAJ staff attended the first-ever Summit on CLE held by the National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives, of which I am a member. There, we discussed changing trends in CLE and began thinking through strategies to collaborate more closely with members of other TLAs and present joint CLE programs.   

We are designing a fun CLE to be held during March Madness 2024, and we are developing programs for new lawyers and solo practitioners for fall 2024.  

All these ideas are fabulous, but we need to do more to approach future CLE programming in a comprehensive and holistic way. With the guiding principles of quality and originality, we are in the process of examining our CLE programming soup to nuts. We have contracted with consultant Michelle Hughes to assist us in this process. Hughes consulted with NCAJ during the 2022-2023 year to help craft the internal blueprint for the legislative efforts, which helped us achieve historic wins during the 2023 legislative session.  

Our goal is to create a CLE strategic plan for NCAJ. Building on our exceptional past while looking to current and future trends to always provide the best quality educational programs for our member. Stay tuned!