Librarians have been assuming lots of new roles in the past ten years, one of which is organizing and managing continuing legal education (CLE) programs. They are ideal candidates for this responsibility in law firms, not to mention other professions with ongoing education requirements.
I covered this topic for the New York Law Journal back in 1998, and what I wrote back then is still true now:
“They are the knowledge facilitators and are closely connected to the suppliers of CLE programs. In the minds of others, librarians have already made the transition from the image of book-based warehouse custodians to knowledge managers.”
Especially in law firms and law schools, where the square footage for ‘book-based warehouses’ has given way to a variety of different uses like more offices, space for meeting and collaboration and even subletting the space to a tech start-up, which is what Houston firm Foreman, DeGeurin & DeGeurin has done.
While library space has contracted or disappeared, MCLEs or Mandatory CLE requirements have only expanded and become more complex, making the CLE management role even more important, and one worth revisiting.
How to develop and operate a CLE program
I’ve delineated CLE program development into eight basic steps that a librarian will need to undertake and manage. While presented originally in the context of law firms, the same principles should apply to other professions with continuing education requirements, whether it’s accountants or acupuncturists.
Step 1—Conduct a needs assessment
All CLE program development should begin with an assessment and understanding of needs within the firm, taking into consideration the licensing goals and requirements of all lawyers, paralegals and any other professional roles.
Step 2—Establish a CLE policy and executive support
Create and communicate policies and procedures tailored to support the organization’s mission. Firms with a strong continual learning and knowledge management culture will have an advantage; in firms that are lagging, CLE policies and procedures can get the momentum started. Getting top-level support and championship is a crucial part of this step.
Step 3—Develop mentoring
CLE programs can involve massive details, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions are involved. An experienced mentor and role model familiar with bar requirements can help ensure success.
Step 4—Determine and use what is publicly available
CLE credits are available in so many ways and so many places, everything from colleges and business schools, professional conferences, internet training and videoconferencing. Back in 1998 it included CD-ROM, which is still an option, but now so much is on the Internet, not to mention a variety of apps available for both Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
Step 5—Develop in-house programs for certification
Even with a wealth of CLE classes and training, most firms should develop internal programs for more focused education that is particularly relevant and useful to the members of the firm. Development of In-house programs can be broken down into three phases: pre-presentation planning and preparation; the presentation itself (including presentation and distribution of handouts and evaluations); and post-preparation (which includes evaluation summaries and CLE board application for accreditation).
Step 6—Uncover and implement internal resources
Strategically the librarian is well-suited to identify all internal resources available for continuing education and professional development and then make sure that the programs are appropriate for the particular needs of the firm. They are familiar with staff from IT, HR, Marketing and other departments who can develop content relating to professional skills, including everything from cyber security to time management to conducting effective meetings and presentations.
Step 7—Publicize the CLE program
Continuous and proactive outreach is a critical step to a successful CLE program; otherwise they may languish. Ongoing tasks include cataloging and communicating programs, publishing calendars and sending out reminders and mentioning the program at various firm meetings.
Step 8—Track and survey participation for improvement
Tracking attendance and monitoring non-attendance will help gauge participation, identify gaps, assess program effectiveness and otherwise gather data to monitor outcomes and improve offerings. CLE is part of any firm’s knowledge base and therefore crucial both to the individual attorneys and other professionals, as well as to the firm’s competitiveness and industry stature.
Librarians are the perfect staff to develop and maintain CLE programs, especially when they are also part of the firm’s Knowledge Management efforts. Over the past ten years, legal librarianship has undergone incredible transformation; while technology has continued to change (goodbye CD-ROM, hello app), the principles remain the same.
And the American Bar Association maintains a list of mandatory CLE regulations on its website.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me—just mention my name Nathan Rosen in your request.