Can Live Survive?
So I responded by asking if they were a for-profit enterprise, and whether they were asking if I was so desperate to be hooked to such a prestigious enterprise that I would happily give up my time and reputation to make them money. A lot of lawyers do that, you know. It's a marketing thing, where lawyers beg to be on television or speak at conferences, for free and on their own dime, so people think they're important lawyers while the business putting on the show makes money off them.
But I received a reply that surprised me. Yes, they were a for-profit business, but what they really wanted was to ask me whether I thought it was possible to do quality CLEs online, and whether lawyers gave a damn about quality CLEs or just getting enough credits to make it past the guardians of the bar. So I bit.
My view was old school, that CLEs had become a joke, particularly given that lawyers now get credit for such critical skills as "how to market" and "how to get the most out of your iPad." How many clients get all warm and fuzzy knowing that this is the sort of advanced training their lawyers deem critical? The business model was to run counter to this slide into the gutter, to provide what they believed to be top quality education. Would lawyers be willing to pay for it?
If the choice is crap versus quality, and the price point was essentially the same, my hope is that lawyers would flock to good quality CLEs rather than crap. But there was a secondary question as well: The CLEs would be delivered over the internet, not in person. Would this change things?
As it happens, I stumbled across a post by lawyer-turned-marketer/coach Roy Ginsburg at the Puddle who wrote a post about this very issue. While my normal modus operandi is to point out the superficiality and general worthlessness of the death of letters there, this was different. The same reader who would avoid anything remotely resembling depth of thought because it makes his head hurt would be the very lawyer to whom these CLEs were directed. After all, how would I know whether they want quality CLEs? How would I know if they care whether the CLEs are live or memorex? Plus, the title of this post comes straight out of Roy's subheading.
This is what makes me nuts about the Puddle, the utter absence of reasoning behind any assertion combined with the blind leap to whatever outcomes can be called 2.0. Roy just assumes that everything is going online because, well, just because. I concede, unfortunately, that he's probably right, though I have actual reasons for my position.
Can Live Survive?
Plenty of older lawyers still prefer being in the same room with a qualified expert. Some younger lawyers, too, will prefer that format. But it won’t be long until the boomers retire and most CLE is provided online. If your bar association is now offering 40 live programs per year, that number will decrease every year going forward.
Online CLEs offer economies of scale that allow for a viable business model. Far less expensive to create, particularly if you have to pay a well-regarded lawyer capable of providing high quality legal education, since there is no room to rent or food to purchase. One of the suggestions I gave was that the sort of lawyer who would do a CLE for the prestigious marketing opportunity was not the sort of lawyer who would be perceived as capable of providing a top quality presentation. There was no shortage of lawyers willing to do anything for free, but nobody would pay to hear them. If they wanted someone who people actually wanted to hear, they would have to pay for it.
Online CLEs also cost the participating lawyer much less time, allowing them avoid the time lost to travel to a live location, which reduced the cost to the lawyer. It allowed the CLE provider to include as many lawyers as were willing to sign up, rather than the limits of geography or seating would allow. It allowed the provider to use a presentation again and again, even if the interactive nature of a webinar done once might be lost in future showings.
And digital natives have gotten used to everything being delivered to them online, so they never have to actually use any muscle that doesn't move a mouse.
But this doesn't address whether this is a good thing. No matter how useful the internet has become as means of obtaining information on any subject under the sun, there is a dynamic to a live presentation that can't be replicated online. We've strayed from quality to convenience, where people interacted face to face, with real life being lost in the process.
Have you ever tried talking to a camera when there is no one else around? It's not fun. It's really a pretty weird feeling, like talking to yourself and wondering whether there is anyone out there to listen. Even in a live webinar, the stilted nature of questions or interactions bears little resemblance to actual conversation. Without seeing the faces of an audience, or the hands going up, or the gal who looks like she's about to burst because of something you just said, there is no sense of reality. The laughs, the groans, the sighs, are all part of human interaction.
Having done webinars and podcasts, as well as live CLEs, there is no question in my mind that much is lost when we aren't in the same room. But then, I'm the boomer, stuck in my old ways. Do new lawyers, the audience for the future of CLEs, share my concerns? Do they care whether we're all in the same room, or the lawyer is just a disembodied face on their computer screen?
I know my answer, but I don't know what young lawyers think.