State of Legal 2012: CLE is a CLM

This is day five of a quick tour of the enterprise law landscape. Day one was an overview and focused on the lawyer; day two was Cost Control 2.0, day three was about legal tech going app-centric, and day four examined why close counts with clients.

Today we examine why a CLE (continuing legal education) mindset about training can operate as a CLM (career-limiting move). More to the point: does the notion that lawyer training has to be mostly about the law and exclusively for credit hold many lawyers back from improving skills as well as knowledge?

First, let me say I understand that many states have mandatory CLE requirements (here’s a map courtesy of the ABA). This was intended to have the public interest in mind. Fair enough. It is clear, though, that most of CLE offerings tend to be focused on lawyers in private practice, designed in the day of the generalist solo who is increasingly a rare breed. Further, in many states it is all about just taking courses and logging hours, not even testing knowledge gained. Finally, there are the well-intended CLE gatekeepers, who are deputized by the state bars to approve certain courses (for a fee) and sometimes offer them outright (for an additional fee).

My prediction for 2012 and beyond is this: lawyers who counsel the enterprise need courses that teach more than just “the law.” As we saw yesterday, if you want to get closer to clients (and stay there) you need to be more than a fount of legal knowledge. You need business process skills and techniques to master interpersonal dynamics.

Let’s be clear about one thing: the status quo isn’t the fault of CLE regulators or purveyors. It’s us lawyers, too. Note earlier I defined CLM as career-limiting move. But the “M” can stand for mindset, too. It’s the notion that lawyers dispense the law, like a juridical pharmacist. Some people (often outside counsel) I have met take this mindset to the Nth degree, and, when pushed by a client to explain an overly-legal answer, respond:

“That’s a business decision.”

Going forward, answers like that won’t get you invited back to the party.

The best enterprise lawyers package legal concepts with a layer of business reality and put an economic bow (with a strong ROI) on top.

Legal education for this market will start to serve this need, CLE credits be damned. It will have to be delivered expertly, crisply, and on-demand. It will move beyond “the law” and provide tools for “the lawyering.”

And it will happen sooner than some may think.