Client CLE Courses: Risk or Reward?

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By David Cruickshank | Oct 28, 2015

Pies en el trampolnA common marketing tool to increase work from existing clients is the offer of a free continuing legal education (CLE) or “new developments” course. These are now often done by webinar, although the in-person version still has distinct advantages. If your firm conducts either version of these courses, have you considered the risks of doing them poorly? Like every other area of practice competition, the standards for an excellent presentation have been raised. To get the marketing rewards, you have to clear that raised bar.

The Risks in Every Client Presentation

If you have experienced a poorly executed CLE presentation, you have probably seen some of these blunders:

  • Repetition caused by an absence of planning (“Let me re-iterate what Jane just said….”)
  • Panels that cut short presenters, stray off topic, and provide no time for questions (Again, a lack of planning.)
  • Dense, unreadable Power Point presentations that are not in sync with the live or web presentation
  • Technical distractions in webinars (open mics, poor sound, failed attempts to cope with a chat room or poll)
  • Content presentation that is more self-promoting marketing than substance (“These are complex problems; you need to consult our smart attorneys”)
  • A promise of CLE credit that can’t be delivered for many state bars

When compared to the smooth, professional courses of your competitors, you are taking a reputational risk every time you present a client course. You wouldn’t respond to an RFP with such poor preparation and execution.

So what are the keys to getting the rewards of a great CLE presentation?

Best Practices for Client CLE Courses

  • Be clear on the purpose and benefits: reputation extension, brand building; cross selling; deeper relations across your teams; and CLE credits. The last is least important, since in-house law departments have many opportunities to acquire credits.
  • For a live event, prefer single client courses, and bring them to your office.
  • Have multiple practice group members attend well ahead of the start time and after. (Why squander the opportunities for conversations and cross selling?)
  • For a webinar, prefer an “all-comers” event and prepare examples that apply to a range of clients. Keep the webinar within a 45-60 minute time frame. Master the “chat” function and prepare to seek questions.
  • Let the marketing team handle invitations, responses and event planning, but put yourselves in the hands of the professional development experts for course design.
  • When using a panel, prepare a detailed panel plan, so that the session comes off as a series of brief conversations, rather than serial presentations. (For more on panel presentations, see this article and template.)
  • Restrict slides in number and verbal content (e.g., 4 points per slide, 6-8 words per point).
  • Rehearse in front of a live or online audience of your associates; ask your professional development director to sit in to critique and check timing.
  • Provide substantive materials, not just slides and marketing materials. Consider innovative approaches to materials, such as “Ten FAQ’s About this Development.”

Offering free client CLE presentations is no longer a differentiator in the marketplace. Executing them poorly is a differentiator – one likely to harm you more than if you had never made the offer. Commit your firm to best practices in client offerings so that you’ll harvest the rewards.

David Cruickshank is a principal at Edge International. He has organized many client CLE courses and trained partners in how to design and deliver them. He is a frequent presenter on this topic at professional conferences. Contact David at david@edge-international.com for more information on this topic.