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On-the-job CLE in Annapolis

As I write this, I’m less than 24 hours removed from the end of the annual legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly known as “sine die.”

Pro tip for anyone who might want to work with the state legislature in the future: despite your years of Latin, in Annapolis it’s pronounced “SAI-nee DAI,” not “SEE-nay DEE-ay.”

So, when each year’s legislative session ends, I review the major developments in different topics of law handled by the General Assembly and compile them for the senators and their staff. Doing that today made me realize another way that working with the state legislature can benefit young attorneys.

You see, working for the General Assembly is like attending different continuing legal education classes—for free! In fact, the government even pays you to learn about these issues and work on them for three months.

Now, as any law student or young lawyer knows, putting your name out acts like a siren call for all sorts of organizations to contact you, asking you to sign up for their classes, subscribe to their magazines, or register for their conventions. Unless you’ve landed a job at a large firm, the first thing that goes through your head upon receiving all these invitations is likely to be, “How in the world am I supposed to pay for them?”

In all likelihood, you won’t be able; instead, you must prioritize. If you’re licensed to practice in a state that requires continuing legal education, make sure you fulfill any obligations first if you want to keep the option of practicing in that state open for the future. After that, I would recommend topics that you’re actively dealing with in your workplace in order to ensure that you are better prepared to handle the next typical client that comes through your door. Finally, save your pet topics for last. You may enjoy the experience more, but there’ll be plenty of time to go after those issues after you’ve established yourself and put some money away in the bank.

You can do all that, or you can find a legislative position in Annapolis.

Sure, I’m simplifying matters, but working with the General Assembly truly is a perfect way to keep up on the latest developments in the law (and if you’re lucky, you may even play a minor role in actually shaping the law yourself). There are certain issues I’ve spent the last 90 days tracking every little movement on—reading the first drafts of relevant bills, listening to committee hearings on the topic, and working until the eleventh hour on amendments.

When you put that much work into an issue, it’s even more informative in the long run than paying hundreds of dollars to attend some national legal exposition on the topic, where you’ll be just another faceless suit in the crowd.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually deal with an issue of importance to your legal work or of particular personal interest to you. That’s why traditional continuing legal education remains important the vast majority of the time, but if you have the opportunity to work directly on legal matters that can shape the very landscape of this state, I can offer you no better piece of advice than to simply go out and do so.

I’ve been doing it the last two years, and I couldn’t be happier.