Although Continuing Legal Education is not mandatory for Maryland attorneys, in-house counsel should make it a priority. Some in-house counsel believe there is no need to attend CLE programs, especially if their employer will not pay for it. However, CLE is more important for in-house counsel than for attorneys practicing in a law firm. Most firms invest heavily in legal education, whether by maintaining a large library and subscriptions to numerous legal periodicals or through internal seminars. In-house counsel, especially those in smaller legal departments, often lack those resources. CLE programs can compensate for that lack while providing a tangible benefit both to the attorney and his or her employer.
First, lawyers have a duty to provide competent advice, and competency is directly linked to staying current on trends and continual changes in the law. Beyond that, learning a new practice area reduces the risk of having one’s skills becoming obsolete, while lawyers with more current skill-sets increase their value to the employer.
CLE does not have to be expensive. Many law firms offer free CLE webinars as part of their marketing efforts. These presentations are usually comprehensive, allowing virtual attendees to submit questions and have their questions answered. In addition, most law firms provide copies of their presentation materials as well as access to other publications of the firm. They commonly offer formal CLE credit for those attorneys who require it to maintain licenses in other jurisdictions.
Other organizations, such as the Practicing Law Institute (PLI), offer CLE on a charge-per-course basis as well as on a yearly subscription basis. By offering Internet access to recordings of those presentations, they make CLE available at any time almost anywhere in the world.
State, local and practice-oriented bar associations can be additional resources for CLE, both online and in person.
An added benefit of in-person CLE is the networking opportunities it creates, allowing an attorney to develop relationships with other in-house counsel who may be able to provide assistance and advice. Given the reduced potential for conflicts compared to attorneys in law-firms, many in-house counsel are willing to share practical guidance with their in-house brethren. As the Japanese proverb states “No one is as smart as all of us.”
Another advantage of networking is the ability to learn of employment opportunities, a significant percentage of which are never formally advertised. In-house openings often are promoted through word of mouth, especially at meetings of the in-house bar.
In short, CLE offers a number of advantages to both the attorney and his or her employer. In-house attorneys should make every effort to use CLE to keep their skills current while learning new practice areas. Those efforts will benefit the attorney in his or her existing position while potentially creating future career opportunities.
Mr. Classen is Deputy General Counsel of Computer Sciences Corporation. The views expressed herein are those of Mr. Classen and not those of Computer Sciences Corporation.