Nothing But the Ruth
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Nothing But the Ruth!

Lawyers and CLE Courses: What Are You Really Doing?

By Ruth Carter

As I looked out at the audience while teaching a CLE course recently, I started to wonder how many of them were there because they were interested in the material or because they just needed the credit hours. What were they really doing when they appeared to be taking notes? I’ve been to my fair share of interesting-sounding CLE programs that turned out to be boring or not on the topic I expected — that’s when I spend the hour catching up on Twitter.

I thought I’d see what my fellow legal eagles think about and do at CLE programs, so I created a survey. Some of the results were pretty interesting.

Question: When you attend a CLE, what is always in your bag?

Thirty-one people responded to my survey, and the most common answers to this question did not surprise me: tablet or laptop (19), business cards (18), notebook/legal pad (17), phone (12) and pens (11).

I thought it interesting that less than half of the respondents mentioned their phones. This probably suggests that people don’t think about their phones as something special to bring, but just something that is always with them (like their keys) so they don’t mention it.

Some answers indicated that respondents went to CLEs expecting to be bored, or to at least not pay attention. Three people said they bring something to read, two people said they bring work, and three said they bring earbuds. (What are they listening to?)

Only two people said they bring chargers. That was surprising because I always bring mine. I never want to have a dead phone. (The best advice I got when I attended South by Southwest (SXSW) last year was “A. B. C. — Always Be Charging.”)

The best answer came from solo business attorney Frances Codd Slusarz from Connecticut: “I’m a packrat, so I bring everything I could ever possibly need in case the zombie apocalypse prevents me from getting to my office for a week, plus a knitting project because I can’t let all that sitting around go to waste.”

The most unusual answer came from the attorney who said a “pistol.” I suspect this was from my Second Amendment enthusiast friend. (Remember I live in Arizona, and carrying a gun is not a big deal here.)

Question: What do you do when you’re zoning out during a program?

The most common answers to this question weren’t surprising: email (21), social media (9) and work (9). One guy admitted to watching Netflix on his phone, and yes, he was one of the people who always brings earbuds to CLE programs.

I was pleased to see four people say they check out Reddit when they’re bored. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Reddit is an information-sharing website with forums for every topic you might be interested in. It’s freakin’ awesome.

Question: When you visit the exhibitor tables, what types of schwag do you take?

Personally, I only take schwag that I’m going to use. The most popular answer from my respondents was pens (13), but two people specified they must be good pens. Other popular answers were notepads/office supplies (6), drinkware (5) and candy (4), while four respondents said they take nothing or “not much.” Sammi Massie, who does estate planning and small business planning services, reminded me that a lot of exhibitors also give out discounts at CLE events.

I also got some bizarre answers to this question:

“Things I can throw.”

“Solid, heavy things.”

Both of these people frighten me a little bit. I’m grateful that I’m a solo practitioner and I work in an office where I don’t have to worry about flying objects.

Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth’s new ABA book, The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers, launches this month. She is also the author of the ABA book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans, as well as The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Managing a Law Firm, Nothing But The Ruth!, Professional Development
Originally published March 10, 2014
Last updated November 6, 2019
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Ruth Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at and

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