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Law firm seminars for clients and prospective clients have been increasing in recent years, driven by both client service considerations and mandatory continuing legal education requirements. In some jurisdictions, such as New York, CLE for clients has become competitive, with the clients themselves approaching firms to create CLE programs, and often suggesting the topics. Whether and how you choose to offer CLE to your clients depends on many factors, but the size of your firm should not be one of them. Many firms have lawyers who are already teaching at CLE programs for national and local CLE providers, thereby offering their clients and prospective clients an opportunity to hear them speak and become acquainted with their expertise. So why should a firm consider hosting its own CLE programs, and what are the considerations involved in this decision? • Client service. Many in-house counsel have their own mandatory CLE requirements to fulfill, and likely have to look outside their own organizations to meet them. What better way to provide a service to your clients and to highlight your firm’s expertise at the same time? • Business development. Seminars are very effective in promoting your firm to existing and prospective clients at a relatively modest cost. Seminars also provide a way to keep in touch with former clients who have moved on to other organizations or whose practices have shifted to other areas of the law. Is the former litigation counsel you worked with 10 years ago now responsible for IP litigation? Is she familiar with your firm’s expertise in this area? Maybe she needs to bring her staff up to speed and would appreciate a basic course in IP due diligence. Inviting clients to your firm’s CLE programs will also demonstrate to them the firm’s commitment to ongoing training of its own professionals, just as corporations have been doing for years. • Professional development. In large firms particularly, associates often do not have direct contact with firm clients. Inviting clients to in-house programs enables associates to meet their peers, as well as to develop communication skills they will need if they are to progress professionally. In addition, the more exposure associates have to clients, the more they will hear and appreciate the clients’ perspective. • Leveraging work product. In many cases, partners and associates have already prepared written materials and presentations for panels at outside CLE programs or for use at associate training sessions. These materials can successfully be adapted for a seminar that would interest your clients. YOUR AUDIENCE • Current clients. Look beyond general counsel. Find out how you can best identify the programs that the GC would be interested in offering to her staff. • Prospective clients. In addition to current clients, consider firm alumni or colleagues who are in transition as you develop invitation lists. HOW TO REACH THEM • Databases. If your firm has a marketing department, work with the staff to develop a database for seminar invitations. If you don’t have a marketing department, ask your partners to contact the general counsel at client firms and offer to put them and any staff members on an e-mail list so they can be notified of upcoming seminars. • Web site. Add information about CLE programs on your Web site to show your firm’s areas of expertise and what partners are currently working on. • Brochures or flyers. If you have sufficient lead time, send out a one-page flyer describing the seminar and providing sign-up information, either by e-mail or postal mail. POSSIBLE FORMATS • Lunch time. If your clients’ offices are nearby, a lunch-time program may be very attractive. The programs can run from one to two hours in length, preceded by a sandwich lunch. Partners and associates can join their clients at that time, and should be encouraged to do so. This format works well for updates on current issues (Sarbanes-Oxley, for example), as well as introductory and overview programs. • Breakfast. For clients and attorneys who find it difficult to break away during the day, or those who prefer early programs, a morning seminar may be a good option. This model also lends itself to a more informal discussion. • Half-day programs. To offer more in-depth discussions on a broader topic, consider starting a program in the morning and ending at noon. You might consider using this format to introduce new areas of practice at the firm, and can feature more practitioners in the presentations. The program can be divided into two or three parts, with breaks for networking. • Full-day programs. This format, probably familiar to many firms, allows for a large group of participants to meet a large group of firm experts in one day, and usually includes a good deal of socializing. Although firms often use hotels or conference centers for these programs, if your office has a conference center and sufficient staff support, consider hosting the program in-house. The ability to better control the costs is only one of the advantages. • Skills workshops. Large law firms very often offer their associates opportunities to learn key litigation skills, such as depositions and trial advocacy, through “learning by doing” workshops. In-house counsel need these skills as well. What a great opportunity to include these attorneys in your skills workshops — or you might offer to prepare a program exclusively for the client. THE COSTS • Food. Of course you’re going to offer your guests something to eat, but it doesn’t have to be a five-course meal. In fact, most people attending a one- to two-hour program would prefer a sandwich or salad. A simple lunch helps you to start the program on time, and best of all, shows the clients you’re not wasting their money. • Technology. The larger the room, the more equipment you’ll need. In some large firms, conference rooms have been outfitted with sound systems and projectors to use with PowerPoint or other presentation software. If you are working with a smaller conference room or a room that does not have these facilities, you will have to weigh the cost of renting or buying this equipment. Is it essential that you have audiovisual capabilities? No, but it does add to the quality of the presentation. • Guest speakers. If you choose to invite a guest speaker to lead or participate in your CLE program, you should be prepared to pay an additional fee or honorarium to the guest, in addition to travel expenses. • Time. Perhaps the biggest expense, but the hardest to calculate, is the non-billable time required to prepare and present the CLE program. (This is a good reason to leverage work product done for other presentations.) Associates and other professionals in the firm can help partners with preparation, to reduce the number of partner nonbillable hours. CLE ACCREDITATION Whether your firm will be able to offer CLE to the seminar attendees depends on a number of variables. Is your firm already accredited to provide CLE in your jurisdiction? If so, work with your CLE coordinator to determine what you will have to do to offer qualified programs. If there is no one at your firm who works with CLE on a regular basis, contact your state’s mandatory CLE authority for rules and regulations (or go to their Web site). Don’t assume that your seminars would not qualify for CLE credit. Most of the 40 U.S. jurisdictions that mandate continuing legal education for their members accredit in-house programs in some way. When it comes to CLE for clients, a little effort can reap great rewards. Libby S. Saypol is a consultant specializing in professional development and training. She served as director of professional development at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and at Howrey & Simon. She can be reached at [email protected] or (718) 268-8508.

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