As lawyers we’re required to do CLEs every year. (Groan.) My experience has taught me that Sean Carter was right when he said that CLEs are really CLAs—”Continuing Legal Attendance.” You get credit just for showing up—no one really cares if you actually pay attention or learn anything.
Recently, I saw this concept in action. I spotted a conference attendee sitting hunched over in the back of a session room, seemingly listening intently to the speakers. When I looked more closely, I saw he had his phone in his hand and ear buds in his ears. I suspect he was enduring the session by rocking out to music.
Some CLEs are fantastic. Their organizers understand that attendees have paid more to be there than they would to attend a concert, so they try to deliver a high-quality experience. Unfortunately, this is the exception, not the rule. Many CLEs are so boring that you’re playing Angry Birds on your phone within the first five minutes and drinking coffee just to stay awake.
It’s Up to You
We have an obligation to stay abreast of developments in our areas of expertise. So, based on my experiences attending professional conferences over the years, here’s what I’ve learned about making the best of a potentially mind-numbing experience.
- Have low expectations. Unless the speaker is the premier expert on a subject, don’t expect to walk out of a session knowing the entire scope of a topic. Try to get one or two useful tips. I know it sounds bad to set the bar so low, but if you have low expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed.
- Select sessions based on the speaker, not the topic. Many conference speakers don’t understand that their job is to entertain and educate. You will be happier if you pick engaging speakers who will keep you attention. If the speaker is boring, you won’t pay attention long enough to learn anything useful.
- Assume nothing in regards to logistics. Even when the organizers encourage you to bring your laptop or tablet, bring a pen and paper with you as well. There’s no guarantee that there will be tables, power outlets, or reliable wi-fi in the session rooms.
- Be comfortable. You may not know from the conference map how far you’ll be walking from the parking lot to the conference, or between session rooms. And you never can tell what the temperature will be inside the buildings. Dress in layers and wear comfortable shoes.
- Invoke the rule of two feet. This is the best rule I ever heard at a conference, and it should be the norm at every one of them: “If you’re not getting your needs met in a session, walk out and try something else.”
For many lawyers, going to a conference is a paid day away from the office. Do your best to enjoy the change of scenery and get something useful out of the experience.