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Today, 40 states (with about 80 percent of the lawyers in the country) require attorneys to take a certain number of mandatory continuing legal education hours (MCLE) each year to keep their licenses to practice law. It’s serious stuff. The California State Bar recently announced that 3,000 members could lose their tickets if they don’t make up MCLE credits, quickly. What many practitioners do not realize is that 34 MCLE states allow some (or all) hours to be taken online. If lawyers didn’t realize that fact, service providers sure did. During the dot.com gold rush — which roughly coincided with several key states “going mandatory” — there was a frenzy of activity as vendors came out of the woodwork to offer everything from ski trip packages, to Zen meditation, to cruises for CLE credit. Many of them quickly bit the dust. But after significant bruising and the dot.com bust, survivors are now taking a more tempered, realistic, view of the legal marketplace. And the nation’s lawyers are the benefactors of the new and improved marketplace. And yes, there is a marketplace for online CLE. Why? Simple — lawyers want online CLE. Web-enabled CLE courses offer distinct advantages over traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom courses. Perhaps the most important reason: flexibility. Lawyers who work in mandatory jurisdictions must fulfill a set number of CLE hours within a specific time frame. Online courses offer crucial maneuverability: no planes to catch, no travel costs, no three-hours-trapped in a lecture hall, no wasted seminar fees due to last minute cancellation because of a client crisis. Stuck with a three-hour layover? Pop online and chalk up a couple hours’ credit! Second, online CLE has the potential to offer state-of-the-art content and real education. Online libraries can literally offer up-to-the-minute case law — something really not viable in paper-based classes with hand-outs prepared weeks (or months or even years, in some cases) in the past. NEW TECHNOLOGY New technology features also can help lawyers with the mechanics of CLE. These include automatic CLE tracking to provide lawyers with a “MCLE short fall” warning system; “gatekeeper” functions for jurisdictions where lawyers are mandated to get pre-approval for online CLE programs; and “polling” features to help users who must respond to content queries or proof that they are still “online” at the conclusion of live real-time courses or that they have devoted the required time to the course. New customer service technology tools even integrate into law office administration and professional development systems, allowing firm administrators to monitor their lawyers’ deadlines. Some online CLE service providers are “content aggregators” — companies that hunt and gather CLE content from a variety of sources, and then offer it to lawyers. Think the Readers’ Digest of online resources. These companies acquire and offer courses from a variety of sources, including other for-profit organizations, and nonprofits from national and state programs. In essence, this is a case where bigger is truly better. These vendors can offer both quality and quantity, and by offering a larger pool of course material, with sophisticated technology tools, can provide more options to lawyers. This can help lawyers actually improve their skills, rather than just take a vanilla course in order to chalk off one more requirement. Online CLE is a reality. Over the next five years, online CLE market acceptance will grow at a steady rate as lawyers realize the time savings, convenience and efficiency of obtaining their MCLE credits online. Attorney Steven Daitch is vice president and general manager of West Group’s West LegalEdcenter. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.westlegaledcenter.com.

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