Learning in the Electronic Era
By Robert J Ambrogi
YOU CAN really get an education on the Internet these days. No, not that kind -- a legal education, continuing legal education, to be exact. The Internet brings CLE to the lawyer's desktop -- books, prerecorded audio and video seminars, even live broadcasts -- all delivered via your computer. And many states count online programs towards mandatory CLE credit.
Here is a look at what is out there in online CLE. A great many CLE providers have Web sites, but the focus here is on those that provide online education -- sites that provide CLE programming directly over the Internet.
From Hoffa To Nader
We start with a site whose premise is that CLE is about something more than earning mandatory credits. The Harvard Law School Forum, has the lofty goal of promoting among lawyers -- as Harvard Law Dean James Landis put it in 1946 -- "an aliveness to the world about them, its pressing issues and its challenges."
This student-run organization, founded in 1946, pursues this by sponsoring speakers on a range of legal, political and social issues. Now, thanks to the Internet, actual audio recordings from more than 40 years of those speeches are readily available. This is an awe-inspiring collection, where you can listen to Eleanor Roosevelt's 1961 address, "Unrest Within the Democratic Party;" Jimmy Hoffa discussing Teamster area-contracts in 1962; Martin Luther King Jr. in 1962 on the future of integration; Timothy Leary in 1966 speaking on, "LSD: Methods of Control;" and Dr. Wernher Von Braun in 1970 prognosticating on the topic, "After the Moon -- What?"
More contemporary speakers include Rudolph Giuliani, Charlton Heston, Ralph Nader, Helen Thomas and Justice Department trust-buster Joel Klein. All of this is free, requiring only the free RealPlayer software.
Founded just a year after the Harvard Law School Forum, ALI-ABA, is likewise bringing its more traditional brand of CLE programming to the Web. In fact, it will unveil several online initiatives over the next year, starting this fall with "Direct-to- Desktop CLE."
These courses, each about an hour long, will combine streaming audio, text and graphics from ALI-ABA lectures, as well as optional question-and-answer and chat features. At press time, ALI-ABA had not set pricing for these courses.
The site already offers audio presentations on estate planning, at $9.95 each, through its Audio Estate Planner Online. Also starting this fall, ALI-ABA will make available online articles and forms from all its magazines, sold either by the piece or by subscription.
Finally, later this year, ALI-ABA will experiment with simultaneous "Webcasts" of the satellite broadcasts it provides through the American Law Network. In the meantime, there is already reason enough to visit this site, including free previews of entire chapters from recently published practice manuals, as well as free selections from such popular periodicals as The Practical Lawyer and The Practical Litigator.
While ALI-ABA is preparing to deliver live Webcasts, the Minneapolis-based National Practice Institute, a CLE provider since 1976, is already broadcasting seminars live over the Internet.
You need only have the Windows Media Player installed on your computer and a 56K or faster Internet connection, and you can participate in these seminars as they occur. There is a registration fee to attend one of NPI's Web seminars, but NPI offers a money-back guarantee that you will be satisfied.
Another old-line CLE provider, in the business since 1933, the Practising Law Institute, has pushed full tilt into the electronic age with its series of MCLE-approved video programs available via the Web. All are recent, one- or two-day CLE courses, presented in their entirety, together with the course book.
Each program is indexed for quick movement to individual presentations or particular topics. Each speaker's key points are bulleted and synchronized with the video. Course handbooks can be downloaded and printed. Each program includes an online discussion forum and links to related PLI materials and related Web resources.
Programs cost from $129 to $750 each, with a sample program available free.
From old-line to new-line, Law.com sponsors a series of text-based seminars on a range of topics and soon will add programs using streaming audio and video. Seminars cost $89-$129, or $429 for a year's unlimited access.
Law.com provides CLE credit in 28 states. Text seminars include full seminar materials and ongoing, threaded discussion boards. (Law.com is a sister company to American Lawyer Media Inc., the publisher of Law Technology News.)
An early innovator in Web-based CLE, one of the first to employ threaded, hypertext discussions backed up by libraries of downloadable information, is CLE Online.
Many of its programs are produced in cooperation with Texas Lawyer newspaper (owned by American Lawyer Media Inc.), the Law Practice Management section of the American Bar Association, and the California-based Center for Continuing Education.
Courses entitle lawyers to CLE credit in Texas, California, New York and Vermont. Eligibility in other states depends on local rules. Because all seminars are presented in a textual format, users are not required to install any special audio or video plug-ins on their computers. The cost is $59 for a three-hour seminar or $25 for a one-hour program.
Another pioneer in using the Internet to provide lawyers with easy access to CLE programs and materials is Michigan's Institute of Continuing Legal Education. The ICLE provides an array of online courses, which consist of downloadable excerpts from ICLE seminar handbooks accompanied in some cases by add-on audio lectures.
These online courses cover business law, criminal law, litigation, labor and employment, probate and estate planning, and other subjects. Beyond CLE, the ICLE site stands out for its Michigan legal library, including current court opinions, court rules and orders, and links to state law-related Web sites.
By collaborating with state and local bar associations to put their CLE programming on the Web, Taecan.com, has become a key provider of CLE online.
Its partners include the State Bar of Calif., the Ohio State Bar Association CLE Institute, the Washington State Trial Lawyers, the Washington Law Institute, the Houston Bar Association, the South Texas College of Law, the Florida Bar, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and others.
Through these partners, Taecan offers a variety of accredited courses, each costing $25 per credit hour. Taecan offers accredited courses in Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.
Course materials are well organized and include links to full-text cases and statutes. Some courses are in audio format, others are text-based.
The seminars section of the legal portal Hieros Gamos provides access to hundreds of hours of audio seminars, some original to the site, some linked from other sites.
Most use the RealPlayer plug-in. Whether they qualify for CLE credit depends on your state's requirements.
Included are Kluwer Legal Briefings, monthly legal briefings by international panels discussing important developments in law; global forums, international panels on the legal profession; Lex Mundi meetings, practice-area discussions among Lex Mundi member law firms; and various bar association programs.
Part of the West Group, RutterOnline provides online CLE in topics ranging from bankruptcy to substance abuse. Courses are presented in audio or video format, using the RealPlayer browser plug-in, and course materials are provided in Adobe Acrobat format.
Courses cost anywhere from $30 to $360, or you can purchase a pass allowing one year of unlimited access for $395. Visitors can try a seminar free for an hour. Participants are eligible to earn CLE credit in California.
Not to be outdone in the rush to provide CLE online, the American Bar Association's Center for Continuing Legal Education provides a variety of CLE programming via the Web. Offerings include: CLE Now!, a set of recordings from nationally known lecturers -- all free.
Listen to "Tips From The Top," trial tips from some of the nation's best-known litigators; "McElhaney's Trial Notebook," by Case Western Professor James McElhaney; or "Stopping Violence Against Women."
The lectures qualify for CLE credit in some states. ABA Connection offers recordings of a monthly, one-hour teleconference on topical legal issues.
Although the teleconferences are live, each is made available here for the following month, together with an online discussion area where Web listeners can continue the discussion.
Its Webcasts of recorded programs, either in audio or video format, are accompanied in some cases by electronic slides and in all cases by downloadable course materials.
Subjects include commercial leasing, expert testimony, mortgage financing and discovery.
The Online Partner is a developing feature using audio, video and text. At press time, this offered a free trial of the program, "Video Depositions: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You."
Finally, Digital Advocates, from Houston's Sam Guiberson, just launched in September.
It includes a focus on legal technology, and includes programs featuring Tom and Gayle O'Connor, Michael Arkfeld, John Tredennick, and others.
Robert J. Ambrogi is director of the American Lawyer Media News Service.