No matter your age, back-to-school season can still conjure up a heavy dose of nostalgia for fresh beginnings. Even if your classroom days are far behind you, as a legal professional, you never really stop learning. Though lawyers and support staff need continuing legal education (CLE) to meet keep their licenses and certifications current, those shouldn’t be the only reasons to look to professional development.
Keeping up with industry trends, learning about the latest regulatory changes and mastering the latest legal technology tools are all part of your job. The importance of CLE affects legal professionals at every stage of their careers. Not only can continuing education help you excel in your current role, but additional qualifications and new skills can also aid with re-entering the field after a long absence, sprucing up your resume or jumpstarting a stalled career.
With so much out there, how will you decide? Here are some tips for choosing the right program for you.
Make yourself indispensable. In today’s job market, where the demand for experienced legal professionals with niche skills outweighs the supply, law firms are becoming increasingly choosy about who they hire. Possessing a special qualification, such as a business degree or second language, can give your employability a big boost. Your best bet is to browse the offerings at your alma mater, look to your local bar, legal administrator, or paralegal association or check out these sites to find a topic or skill of interest that can help you stand out in the crowd. In addition to these legal associations, consider the following resources:
• The blog 4FreeCLE lists upcoming live courses, both in-person and online, and several free CLE choices.
• The American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education Group (ALI CLE) has a vast compendium of webcasts, training programs and in-person seminars and lists everything from free CLE options to “top selling” online courses.
• Robert Half Legal has more than 8,000 online courses.
Expand and/or specialize your skills. Litigation, general business and commercial law show the biggest gains in terms of job opportunities, according to a recent Robert Half Legal survey. Industries with the most potential for growth are healthcare, manufacturing and financial services. A training program in a new practice area or industry specialization might help you get a foot in the door for a promotion or career switch.
• The American Bar Association (ABA) has an ABA Essentials series, which features introductory courses covering the fundamentals of core practice areas for new and transitioning legal professionals.
• LexVid offers free videos for all major legal practice areas, some of which can even earn you CLE credits.
Don’t underestimate the value of technology. Tech trends show that cloud-based applications can boost productivity in your law firm by streamlining workflow, enabling secure file-sharing, easing the process of due diligence and simplifying project management. A recent white paper by Robert Half Legal, “Technology’s Transformation of the Legal Field,” describes how new technology in the legal sphere is crucial for keeping up with today’s remote workforce, 24/7 client demands and the growing field of eDiscovery. Consider getting on that bandwagon. Here are some good resources:
• ABA TECHSHOW and LegalTech present CLE courses, conferences and a yearly expo that explore the intersection of law and technology. The online equivalent is VirtualLegalTech, which offers CLE-eligible webinars.
• Certified eDiscovery Professional (CeDP) certification demonstrates your competence in this growing area.
Learn how to streamline operations. Studying law firm management is a good way to learn new strategies to optimize your legal team. These skills will also come in handy if you plan to strike out on your own one day.
• The Association of Legal Administrators offers a qualification, Certified Legal Manager (CLM), as well as live, online and free CLE webinars.
• University of Denver College of Law and The George Washington University College both have graduate degrees in law firm management, legal/law office administration and judicial administration, with some required courses available online.
In today’s changing legal labor market, it never hurts to brush up your skill set or take your career in a different direction to secure a bright legal future. Online training sessions and webinars can amount to free CLE opportunities that expand your employment options — and horizons.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.