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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Law Professors and CLE

While we are on the topic of blogging and blanking without tenure, I wanted to discuss an experience from my recent past (last Friday), but that isn't mentioned by Professor Horwitz as something one might ordinarily do while untenured - namely teaching CLE.

Is the view of the academy really as down on CLE as the rumors might have me believe?

Last Friday, I taught "Updates in Cyberlaw" to those West Virginia attorneys who were interested in the topic.  Attendees asked really great questions, and I got the sense that what I was telling them would really help their practices and clients.

I'm not worried about how my participation will be viewed at my own school, as CLE teaching has many benefits here:

  • Many professors do it, from the most tenured faculty to the least
  • It is viewed as service
  • It is a good way to keep in contact with the bar, something valued at the school
  • Once I've been here long enough, it will be a nice way to keep in touch with former students
  • Participants may be donors now or in the future
  • The CLE office is headquartered at the law school, and the head of it is an assistant dean here
  • We get free football tickets and parking, which is pretty valuable around here
  • The refreshments are really great

My one hour session leaves me wondering, though, how teaching CLE might be viewed by the rest of the academy.  I've added it to my resume as a "presentation" in part because that's how I keep track of such things for promotion and tenure.  I realize that CLE has little impact on appointments, but what about now?  When others read it (assuming they actually get that far - a tall assumption indeed), are they going to scoff?  Will they just ignore it as shameless self promotion?  Will it have any positive impact?  Should I care, given that those at my own school will view it positively?

There is no doubt that I would rather be invited to present a scholarly paper to an interested group of my peers, but is there room in the academy for teaching those who have already received their diplomas?

Posted by Michael Risch on October 14, 2008 at 11:42 AM | Permalink


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I think it depends on the market where you work as a lawyer. When I was in practice in New York, I always could find a CLE being offered withing a month or two on any topic about which I was thinking, "boy, I really need to brush up on (or learn the basics of) XYZ," whether it was employee benefits, discovery in state court litigation, deposition-taking, negotiation skills, (just to name four I did take) or just about anything else. And I thought this remained true by the time I was in year six as a lawyer, not just as a newly minted law school grad.

I can't swear this is true in all markets, though; in some smaller markets, you may be stuck with nothing but "case law update [in fields of practice you don't care about]" or "trial skills [ie, war stories]" being offered by well-intentioned county bar ass'ns that simply lack the staffing or lawyer roster to offer a wide enough range of CLE to be relevant to everyone.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Oct 15, 2008 11:38:51 PM

I have been practising law since 1981 and in my humble opinion, most CLE classes are an utter waste of time. For the most part, they range from the dreary recitation of the obvious to relentlessly boring war stories. They exist only because they are required by well meaning but otherwise clueless state regulators.

I contrast that to a week I spent at a well-known business school studying finance for folks who don't practice in the area. The classes were all taught by full tenured professors and were excellent: intellectually stimulating, rigorous and useful.

I suspect that CLE classes might be more interesting and stimulating if they were taught by taught by full tenured professors rather than by lawyers out marketing their names. Given the captive market, however, it's surely more profitable for CLE sponsors to use practising lawyers, who will donate their time for nothing in exchange for the publicity, rather than hiring real law professors.

Posted by: DBL | Oct 15, 2008 3:15:28 PM

CLE presentations are good for all the reasons you list, especially
at a public law school in a state like West Virginia where a high percentage of the lawyers are WVU Law graduates. I always regarded CLEs as important and valuable service during my 13 years as Dean at Ole Miss, Kentucky and Georgia. The presentations keep faculty in touch with the bench and bar, and most of the time those lawyers and judges in the audience will be impressed with the quality of the law faculty presentations. I would not hesitate listing CLE presentations on your CV
as well as in your annual report to the Dean - you had to prepare the
written materials, you outlined your talk, you probably rehearsed it
a couple times to make sure you could do it in 45 minutes and leave time
for questions, and what you learned in preparing the talk should enrich your teaching. CLE talks might not count much if and when you try to
move to another law school but there is much to be said for doing some of those extra things - service activities - that count for something at your home institution.

Posted by: Dave Shipley | Oct 14, 2008 3:33:25 PM

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