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Posts Tagged ‘MCLE’

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/g/GromovatayaIrina/03/l/1458732114nc9vo.jpgIf the American Bar Association (ABA) is underwriting something — America’s lawyers be wary. This is the organization led a few years ago by an oblivious President with the stones to blame students for opting for law school in a declining economy — this while the selfsame was roundly criticized for its own considerable regulatory failings.

And despite having done more than its share to create the lawyer glut, the ABA stands around even now, in the words of one critic, “limp-wristed” while law schools race to the bottom repeatedly lowering LSAT admission scores trawling for matriculants as enrollments decline. Any wonder another commentator declares, “The ABA can’t be trusted”?

More recently, politically correct ABA do-gooders have recommended bar associations adopt a “speech code” for lawyers — the violation of which means discipline.

And just days ago, the ABA House of Delegates adopted a new model rule concerning continuing legal education, recommending in part that state bars uniformly impose a 15-hour minimum continuing legal education requirement per jurisdictional reporting period. As usual, the ABA trots out the self-serving claptrap offered without a scintilla of empirical proof that “MCLE continues to play a crucial role in maintaining public confidence in the legal profession and the rule of law and promoting the fair administration of justice.” Pretentious pretextual poppycock notwithstanding, left out as usual is the truth that MCLE mostly serves to line bar association coffers nationwide. Ka-ching!

Such was the context for the announcement of a pro bono survey project launched by the ABA last year. It was just rolled out in Arizona.

On its website, the ABA explains it offered “its pro bono survey instrument, free of charge, to states interested in studying various aspects of the profession’s pro bono culture.” One can only guess what that means although after welcoming survey-takers, the questionnaire reveals its intentions:

“You have been asked to participate in this survey so that we may gain a better understanding of legal services provided to low and moderate income people in your state. This is a nationwide effort to quantify and recognize the pro bono work provided by attorneys, as well as to understand the factors that encourage or discourage pro bono service. We are interested in the perspectives of attorneys who have provided such services as well as attorneys who have not.”

What the “better understanding” leads to, however, is another question. Otherwise, to the frequently asked question, “What are the states expected to do with the results?” — it answers:

The ABA encourages the state leadership teams to review the findings and collaborate to generate state program and policy recommendations. In the summer and fall of 2017, the ABA will facilitate conference calls with each of the participating states to review the findings and discuss recommendations.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/j/Jamierodriguez37/03/l/1426633399eunhs.jpg Carrots turned cudgels.

Since I ignored the first email solicitation from the Arizona Bar CEO to take the survey, last week I received a reminder to “take a few minutes” to participate in “this worthy effort” along with “an incentive to complete the survey.” No further reminders necessary for this resolute non-participant.

Based on the time it took Nebraska lawyer survey participants to complete the survey, it’s anticipated it will take lawyers more than “a few minutes” since Nebraska participants took an average of 32 minutes to finish it. And ostensibly an anonymous survey, that anonymity flies out the window if Arizona Bar members elect the Bar’s incentive to “be included in a drawing for a $150.00 gift card.”

In 2014, the State Bar of Arizona dangled a $250 Visa gift card as the sole prize for contestants vying to create a 15-second Instagram video with the mandatory phrase, “Finish the ballot. Vote for the judges!” To the best of my knowledge, the Bar never disclosed the winner or the wining video most likely because of embarrassing sparse participation. More recently, the Bar offered another gift card incentive to induce participation in its triennial lawyer compensation survey.

Compulsory lawyer servitude.

Ever the jaundiced one, I suspect these surveys will be used to advance program and policy goals of those clamoring for mandatory pro bono. Their salivary glands have never stopped drooling ever since New York became the first state to mandate pro bono work.

In New York, the forced pro bono rule was inflicted on law school graduates as a condition for bar admission. New York bar applicants must perform 50 hours of pro bono work before they can be admitted and some day hope to earn a living as lawyers.

Unlike other professionals, lawyers inexplicably remain the sole special snowflakes compelled to belong to their trade associations as conditions to earn a living. And soon enough lawyers may be the solitary profession whose services should also be compulsorily given away.

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Credits: Morguefile.com, no attribution; Making Faces, at Flickr by a2gemma via Creative Commons-attribution license.

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(1) there’s no empirical support that mandatory continuing legal education enhances lawyer competency or professionalism and;

(2) the state bar has a financial interest in CLE marketing.

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Pants on Fire | by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com“States that have voluntary bar associations by and large do not have lower overall bar dues,” says a footnote in the Draft Report posted by the Arizona Supreme Court’s State Bar of Arizona Mission and Governance Task Force. “They charge both a mandatory regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues, which together often exceed the annual membership fee in the State Bar of Arizona.”

Sounds well and good — but too bad for the Kool-Aid guzzlers, it doesn’t pass a fact check.

Caricatures 14You can read the Draft Report here and find the above-mentioned quote at the bottom of page 13.

Fact-checking the Bar.

After the better part of a year, you’d think the Task Force would have spent a little more time fact-checking and getting its story straight. Or maybe like George Costanza, it just believes it — so it must be true.

Certainly, there’s a lot in the Task Force Report upon which to take exception, not the least being the conflated mythology again fluttered out on frayed wings that only a mandatory bar can “ensure professionalism and competence” and that only a mandatory bar can protect the public from its lawyers.

Night Shift 31This, of course, ignores the robust lawyer regulation and disciplinary regimes in 18 voluntary state bar jurisdictions. It also wrongs and misconstrues the panoply of membership benefits provided by voluntary bar associations, to name a few, like Ohio’s, Iowa’s, Colorado’s, New York’s, and Illinois.’

Indeed, many if not all the voluntary bar association programs and benefits rival and even exceed the programs, activities and services offered by the compulsory State Bar of Arizona.

And yet, the Arizona Bar likes to pretend that only mandatory bars make available client protection funds; offer law office management and lawyer assistance programs; provide continuing legal education courses; present annual bar conventions; publish monthly bar magazines or support ethics hotlines. Begging the question, the Draft Report shamelessly proclaims,These invaluable services will cease to exist with the demise of the integrated bar because no voluntary bar in Arizona offers them.”

Instead, see what happens in jurisdictions with voluntary bar associations, for example, check out: Ohio and Iowa and New York and Colorado and Illinois. Lawyers in those jurisdictions choosing to join their state’s voluntary bar associations don’t take a back seat to anything offered by the mandatory State Bar of Arizona.

Twain's Men's Room | by bump

 

morguefile.com photo

It takes two hands to put out this whopper.

As for the whopper about how both a mandatory regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues, which together often exceed the annual membership fee in the State Bar of Arizona,” the facts are set out in the chart below.

The data concerning optional voluntary state bar association membership dues was obtained from readily available public online information from voluntary state bar jurisdictions. The attorney registration fee information comes from state court websites although since the Arkansas Supreme Court fee registration information was not publicly accessible, it was confirmed by a licensed Arkansas lawyer.

 

 

fees-sba-web

click to enlarge

The fees in the chart are the full fee maximums for lawyers practicing past the entry-level graduated fee periods. Newbie lawyer fees are typically discounted.

No MCLE in Connecticut, Maryland and Massachusetts.

And then take note of something else not mentioned in the chart. While the breathtaking $945.00 combined regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues appear to make Connecticut a high cost to practice jurisdiction, the overall cost to practice is still lower than in Arizona. Why? Because unlike Arizona, Connecticut does not have mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE). This saves Connecticut lawyers anywhere from $600 to $1000 per year versus what Arizona lawyers pay to satisfy the annual 15 hour MCLE requirement.

The same is true of Massachusetts with its sizeable $761.00 combined regulatory assessment and separate voluntary bar dues. Massachusetts does not have a MCLE requirement. Nor does Maryland, which at $280.00 for both regulatory assessment and voluntary bar dues must be the lowest cost to practice jurisdiction in the United States.

Comparing overall costs to practice.

Work World 14The bottom line is two-fold: One, in voluntary bar states, lawyers can elect to pay only their court-mandated regulatory registration fees and forego joining a voluntary state bar association. This automatically reduces their overall cost to practice as compared to Arizona.

Two, the exact opposite is true of the Task Force’s claim that Arizona’s bar dues are often exceeded by the combined regulatory assessments and voluntary bar dues in voluntary bar jurisdictions. Lawyers in states that have voluntary bar associations pay lower overall bar dues, in some instances much less than the current and still escalating annual membership fee in the State Bar of Arizona, which hits $520 per year on January 1, 2018.

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Photo Credits: “Pants of Fire,” by Mike Licht at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution ; Twain’s Men’s Room, by Robert Occhialini at Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/70/Wooden_hourglass_3.jpg/300px-Wooden_hourglass_3.jpg

Image, Wikimedia Common

So here it’s almost year-end with so much to update and so little time, including that the Arizona State Bar’s ‘pay to play’ CLE precertification scheme was unexpectedly voted down by an otherwise management-submissive board of governors.

Conveniently overlooking that it started the commotion in the first place but acting now as though members suddenly mattered, here’s the Bar’s self-serving announcement, “After hearing comments from members and CLE providers, the Board of Governors has voted unanimously not to create a process for precertifying CLE providers.”

“Fanciful benefits” of CLE

But in place of other updates and since there’s a few more days before the last day of the year, let me instead here applaud colleague James C. Mitchell’s boldly trenchant move to petition to amend Arizona Supreme Court Rule 45. This is the rule that sets out the Court’s mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) requirements.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/80/The_Goose_That_Laid_the_Golden_Eggs_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994.jpg/165px-The_Goose_That_Laid_the_Golden_Eggs_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994.jpg

Arizona lawyer Mitchell petitioned the state supreme court last month to require an acknowledgement on all continuing legal education advertising, to wit,“that the value of mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) is unproven and that the State Bar of Arizona has a financial interest in CLE marketing.” The acknowledgement would read as follows:

______________________________________________________________________

Rule 45. Mandatory Continuing Legal Education
(a) through (k) [No changes]

“(l) Advertising. Any advertisement for a continuing legal education program, product or service offered by or in conjunction with the State Bar of Arizona shall contain the following disclaimer:

“The State Bar of Arizona makes no representation that this program, product or service will improve any attorney’s competence or protect the public. No evidence proves that mandatory continuing legal education provides such benefits. The State Bar seeks revenue from CLE programs, products and services.

The disclaimer shall appear conspicuously in capital letters in black type at least half the point size of the largest type in the advertisement, but in no event smaller than 12-point type.”

______________________________________________________________________

As he writes in his petition, “The statement would align claims for mandated CLE with available evidence of its value, acknowledging that CLE as practiced has little or no verifiable impact on attorney competence or public protection.

“This amendment is needed to create transparency in a significant program of law practice regulation. It would protect the public and lawyers themselves from deception by unproven claims of value in a mandated scheme of so-called continuing legal education, and protect the State Bar from potentially making or embracing false claims of value in products and services that it provides for money.”

Asking for “honest disclosure.”

Of course, the Court will never approve this petition and will most likely deny it without explanation. Still, kudos to Mr. Mitchell for daring so eloquently and so wittily to expose what most of us already knew, MCLE is bare of verifiable, substantiated argument.

Calling for truth-in-advertising and referring to the Bar’s claims about CLE content quality as “hyperbole,” he adds, “. . . until that joyous day when MCLE joins Smell-O-Vision films and Michael Dukasis’s tank in Terrible Idea Heaven, Petitioner simply urges this Court to order a policy of honest disclosure in advertising.

“None of the Bar’s hyperbole likely violates the prohibitions on false and misleading commercial speech in ARIZ. REV. STAT. § 44-1481(A)(1) (fraud-in advertising statute bars omission of material facts) or our own ER 7.1 (material omission prohibited in communication concerning a lawyer’s services). But should our State Bar really slither through the same loopholes that permit overselling automotive clunkers? Should our State Bar, when advertising, omit material facts in a way that no ethical advertising lawyer may? Should the State Bar claim a right to withhold essential information about CLE’s worth, namely the fact that none has been proven? Petitioner respectfully suggests that it should not. We’re lawyers. We should do better. We should get out front with the truth.”

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Hands-Clapping.jpg/312px-Hands-Clapping.jpgTo which I cheer, “Bravo, bravo, bravo!”

Read the entire petition here.

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Photos: From The Æsop for Children, by Æsop, illustrated by Milo Winter at Wikimedia Commons, public domain;La publicite en France par Emile Mermet, advertising poster, ca. 1880 by trialsanderrors at Flickr Creative Commons attribution;hands clapping, Wikimedia Commons.

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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d1/Avarice.jpg/321px-Avarice.jpg“When somebody says it’s not about the money — it’s about the money.” – H.L. Mencken

This Friday, the State Bar of Arizona considers whether or not to ask the state supreme court to approve a precertification system for organizations offering continuing legal education (CLE) in Arizona.

Those favoring a first-ever pay-to-play arrangement wherein CLE providers have to pay a fee to be Bar-accredited to sell credit-eligible courses in Arizona are making like it’s all good. They’re saying it’s about insuring program quality and attorney competency; enhancing member services; and advancing the Bar’s mission to protect the public — from its lawyers.

But recalling Mencken and as every lawyer who’s ever heard clients sayit’s not about the money’ knows — the proposed change is about the money. And we’re talking about a lot — well into the 7 figures of gross revenue, at least here in Arizona. For mandatory and voluntary bars across the country, continuing legal education is a cash cow business.

And thanks to the Arizona Bar’s latest proposal to require provider precertification, it means to keep its cash-generating bovine healthy by:

► Generating more money via another CLE revenue stream and by;

► Protecting its $2M+ annual CLE revenue turf from increased competition from third-party CLE providers.

How high the annual or course-by-course certification fees will be is anybody’s guess. However, the Bar subcommittee recommending the changes noted that other state bars have annual fees ranging “from $100-$500.”  Unfortunately, the subcommittee neglected to similarly emphasize that the mandatory continuing legal education jurisdictions of Nevada, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, and New York have CLE certification guidelines but without fee generating mechanisms. See http://www.barancle.com/mcle/course-application-requirements/

Those aforementioned states, which include both mandatory and voluntary bars, only require lawyers to comply with MCLE — but do not impose accreditation fees on providers. See https://www.reqwiredlegal.com/reqwired/resources/ and http://www.barancle.com/mcle/mcle-requirement/ And why not mention that the jurisdictions of Michigan, South Dakota, District of Columbia, Maryland, and Massachusetts have no MCLE requirements at all?

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Limbo1.JPG/1024px-Limbo1.JPGTo be fair, there’s talk here of possible exemptions for non-profits and local organizations that do not charge dues and seminar registration fees, which must mean that unlike the non-profit Arizona Bar — such organizations have to undertake CLE strictly as a labor of love.

Sarcasm aside, it presumably means law firms with free in-house employee CLE would get a pass. Yet undetermined, though, is whether state agencies or state-funded organizations would be charged fees or reduced fees and whether or not Arizona lawyers would be charged to get credit approval for non-Bar accredited third-party CLE.

Another under-publicized Bar vote.

Politicians 19But for a belated blast email asking for member comments 9 days before the vote, Arizona’s lawyers might not have heard of the significant changes planned. That said, since lawyers are often too busy to pay attention to every email in a glutted inbox, I suspect very few of Arizona’s 17,300 active members will have heard of the proposal. They’ll find out only after the proverbial die’s been cast.

Seems the Bar learned nothing from the brouhaha it stirred when it tried last December 2013 to pass a 22% lawyer licensing fee increase when they thought no one was looking. Because of lawyer objections concerning insufficient due process and lack of transparency, the Bar had to table that vote. Unfortunately, despite subsequent revelations of bureaucratic bloat and budgetary waste, the Bar eventually eked out a 12-11 vote to hike Arizona lawyer dues albeit by ‘only’ 13% instead of 22%.

So no surprise to jaded Bar members about this latest under-publicized move by the ‘friendly state bar.’ Stoically resigned Arizona lawyers already know that despite an almost $15M annual budget; a just-passed dues increase; and a projected nearly $4M surplus by 2019, Bar leadership has sufficient brass to ask members to sustain one more financial burden on their practices. The imposition of new cost-of-business fees on third-party CLE providers will be passed on to participants.

The emperor has no clothes.

The irony of all of this is that from the first imposition of mandatory continuing legal education, lawyers have questioned the faulty assumptions and false conclusions underpinning it.

Indeed, as prominent Nevada family law attorney Marshal Willick writes in his brilliant post All studies known to date show no benefit whatsoever to imposition of mandatory CLE programs in terms of lawyer competency.  What we have is a time-and-money-consuming bureaucracy that falsely portrays itself as providing a service important to the public, but actually does not make lawyers any better, or provide the public any useful information; in short, it does no actual good.

Man with American money uid 1“Why would the organized Bar – formed for the stated purpose of serving the Bar and public – demonstrate such gross incapacity to see that the emperor has no clothes? Because, even beyond the PR value of the appearance of doing something valuable, there’s money to be made.”

And for additional perspectives concerning the absence of studies that mandatory CLE verifiably improves the quality of legal services or ensures the competency of lawyers, also see, e.g., “The MCLE Question No One Wants to Ask” at http://www.law21.ca/2013/04/the-mcle-question-no-one-wants-to-ask/ and “Colossal Cave-in: Why Reform of MCLE Was DOA” at https://www.myazbar.org/AZAttorney/PDF_Articles/AZAT0201-MCLE.pdf  and “Revisiting MCLE: Is Compulsory Passive Learning Building Better Lawyers?” at http://bit.ly/1uRNLDq R

Irksomely, however, mandatory CLE will continue to exist because state bars make a lot of money from it.

Bureaucrats.PNG

“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”Thomas Sowell

The creation of yet another bureaucratic department at the Bar staffed with either more clerical or legal staff to vet CLE programs is a fiscal step in the wrong direction.

Among similarly-sized state bars, the Arizona Bar already has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest lawyer licensing fees; one of the largest annual budgets; and one of the biggest administrative staffs and exceptionally well-paid executive cadre in the country.

Instead of looking at fiscal discipline and cost-controls, this latest initiative virtually assures more member dues increases to satisfy the ongoing demands of the new bureaucracy created to qualify, certify, track and audit CLE providers in the future.

Whether there’s enough fiscal good sense left among the Bar’s Board of Governors to stop the proposal remains to be seen.

But when you’re talking Bar bovine bankrolling protection — don’t bet on it.

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Photo Credits: Deadly sins, Avarice, by Jesus Solana at Flickr Creative Commons-requiring attribution http://www.flickr.com/photos/pasotraspaso/6953271968/; The Emperor’s Clothes by Vilhelm Pedersen at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; Revenue by Simon Cunningham at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Limbo Dancer by Mariegriffiths at Wikipedia Commons under the GNU Free Documentation License; Imag0361, by Bruce Biles at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Money, by Philip Taylor at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Bureaucrats, by Raafael at Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; Cash cow, adopted from watchingfrogsboil at Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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woman face 5A quick post on Continuing Legal Education (CLE). In the past, I’ve posted about CLEonline.com, which when you’re in a hurry; up against a deadline; and can’t find Free CLE — then almost free CLE is the next best thing. Better yet, in MCLE states such as Texas, California, Colorado and others, lawyers get full participatory CLE credits not merely self-study credit for CLEonline.com seminars.

For those that don’t always pay attention, this is an important distinction. Many jurisdictions like Arizona’s will restrict the number of self-study hours their lawyers can log toward the mandatory annual requirement. In Arizona, the limit is 5 hours of self-study out of the mandatory 15 hour requirement.

Now, I’m not a paid shill for this company or any other for that matter. And I know there are other cost-effective CLE providers out there, e.g., the low-cost bundles from outfits like, Attorney Credits. But when I’m not getting my CLE gratis, I admit to having paid for courses through CLEonline.com. But only when a particular program drew my interest and of course, when the price was right.

A few days ago, for example, I took advantage of their current Last Chance’ (50% Off) promotion and benefited from a terrific program for the non-immigration lawyer, “Immigration Basics: The Crazy World of Foreign Nationals in (and Wanting to Come to) the United States.” The 1.5 hour course was enthusiastically, wittily and informatively taught by a young immigration attorney out of Houston, TX, Anuj A. Shah. My total cost was $19.

FREE CLE.

But no post on Free CLE would be complete without providing lawyers 11 days before the fiscal year CLE deadline with at least one more FREE CLE option. This one comes courtesy of MCLE Online – Fidelity National Title.

Registration is required to access “hour long modules . . . broken up into four 15 minutes sections and certificates can be printed upon completing each hour.” The site goes on to mention “topics such as: Surveying, Title Examination, Bankruptcy and many more. Best of all, these courses are offered free of charge to any attorney that is interested.”

Once you’re registered and accessed their desktop feature, Fidelity National Title’s site also provides access to free ARDC Seminars.

As always, all my usual CLE disclaimers apply about continued availability, content quality and acceptability by your jurisdiction.

 

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Continuing legal education programs are bad news. I can think of scores of lousy CLE seminars. But I can only think of a few that were worthwhile, for example a legal writing seminar several years ago taught by Judge Mark Painter.

The rest of the time, they suck. Here’s why. First, there’s the fact providers overcharge for CLE. It’s like paying $50 for a plate of chow mein. The noodles aren’t filling and 15 minutes later, you’re hungry again. Worse still, you’re figuratively and literally the poorer for the experience.
businessman tied up uid 13Most jurisdictions mandate CLE so providers know they have a captive customer. State bars are just as bad. They make money from CLE. It’s a profit center for them.
So why does everyone overcharge for CLE? Because they can.

A sack of potatoes. Second, there’s the content. By nature, lawyers are verbose. Why say something in 5 words when you can use 20? Attend any program, whether it’s an hour or 6 hours, there’s always too much material to cover in the time given. 20 lbs of potatoes don’t fit in a 5 lb sack. Concision? Hah! I’ve never attended a live CLE program where the time allocated matched the content provided. The disorganized presenters either race through the last sections or simply punt, announcing, Read the rest of that stuff on your own.”

Attenuated and tangential value.

And then the other problem with the content is that it’s generally of little direct value. Attend a workshop on trial preparation or evidence and you’ll get a canned generic presentation taught by a national presenter and completely unrelated to your local jurisdiction. Take a class on probate administration, for example, and expect ‘Death by PowerPoint,’ courtesy of a Toastmasters-dropout.  He or she will drone on mind-numbingly reading copy-dense slides that track with the local probate statute.

A prescription for improvement.

1. Price CLE reasonably, i.e., affordably. This is especially true for programs available online where the cost of each incremental eyeball is nil.
2. Manage the time. The content needs to match the time allocation.
3. Make programs relevant to the jurisdiction where they are presented.
4. Provide substantive value. Include illustrative handouts, model forms and sample pleadings. Cite real-life applications.
5. Skip the rugby scrum presentation model. It’s not strength in numbers, it’s stage-fright by committee. One or two agile, articulate and knowledgeable presenters are preferable to a phalanx of over stuffed-shirts. Just because you’re a lawyer, does not make you a public speaker. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ Photo Credits: “Richard eating the usual at new town,” by Roland Tanglao at Flickr Creative Common Attribution; “street potato,” by Mario Arias at Flickr Creative Common Attribution; “1 y 1” by Gabriel S. Delgado C. at Flickr Creative Commons attribution.

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