This may be shorter than you are accustomed to receiving on Friday mornings, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Who is making the sacrifice is something we can hold for later. Can we talk about mandatory continuing education? Let’s do – mainly because I am about to undergo one such struggle session.
“Back in my day . . . ” is a way I never thought I would start a sentence because I was always one of the young whippersnappers who never had “a day” that was far enough back to beat young people over the head with. But, well, here we are. Anyway, when I first became a licensed attorney in my state, there was no such thing as mandatory continuing education.
Oh, there was continuing ed, alright. I even went to quite a few examples. For younger folks, here is how it used to work. People put on seminars. If they were good seminars, lawyers used to pay money (and take time out of the office) to attend them. What did we get? We got good, practical knowledge (and usually a nice reference book to take home). As you can guess, a seminar or other educational program had to be pretty good to get folks to attend.
It was within the first few years after I passed my bar exam that my state instituted mandatory continuing ed. The way it works here is that we have a three-year cycle to ring up 36 hours of credit. This works out to 12 hours per year for the cycle, but in any given year you can get by with 6 hours so long as you get to 36 at the finish line.
So, what is different now? There are more seminars. Lots and lots and lots more seminars. Multiple times a week there are come-ons in my email box for seminars. And once late October hits, watch out, because the volume of seminar promos simply explodes. As you might imagine, quality can vary pretty widely. Unless we are talking about “video replays” which are uniformly horrid. I will confess to some smugness because my prediction has proved correct from when I immediately renamed the rule “The Full Employment For Seminar Givers” rule.
Which seminar you choose to attend is different too. Where before it had to be about something useful, now the goal is to log hours. Almost immediately there was a new category of attendee – the old guy (it was always an old guy) in the back row with a file or a deposition transcript or even a newspaper spread open on the table in front of him. This person was not there to learn anything, and could not have cared less about the output from the earnest young presenter as he (or she) droned on about some topic that was clearly not as important to him as the hours to be awarded.
And an attendee’s level of choosiness diminishes as the deadline approaches. It is December and a guy still needs hours? Sign up! Things reach a point where it no longer matters if the subject is tax law, immigration, securities regulation, divorce or litigation techniques. It becomes all about cost and schedule, and a guy who does little but insurance litigation or wills and trusts comes out of a session on marital property division with just about zero improvement in the ability to serve clients.
Covid caused a change which allowed all 36 hours to be online instead of a maximum of 12 in a cycle. I have not decided if this is a good change or a bad change, but it is certainly convenient. A person could (in theory) write a blog post while someone on a computer screen goes on and on about some completely irrelevant topic. But, of course, such things would never happen in real life.
Yes, I understand that all clients want their attorneys to be up on the latest developments in the law. But the result is as it always was – there are lawyers who want to keep current and those who do not see the need to do so outside of their day-to-day practice. The only difference is that now both groups are sitting in on the seminars instead of just the first group.
My background in economics makes this quite understandable – everyone has boxes to check. Good systems make those boxes relevant to improved outcomes that the system was put into place to encourage. But sometimes the system becomes the end instead of the means. Sometimes a system meant to encourage improved lawyers turns into a vending machine that churns out credit-hours. For a fee, of course.
So blogging time is up because it is time to turn my attention back to the Continuing Ed seminar about to get going. What is it about? It’s about an hour. Beyond that, I hope it is something of use beyond simply a credit hour. Although the cynic in me says that the odds are against it.