Let’s go back in time for a moment to your elementary school days. Remember when the teacher wheeled in a tall cart with a television or a reel-to-reel projector (depending on your age)? Remember when someone came into the classroom to talk to you about their job and did so with such passion that you were inspired then and there to do that same work? Remember when you were hard at work on a math problem and you suddenly “got it?”
As attorneys, we worked hard through the competitive and intense years of law school. This experience changes our perspective on learning. Education becomes a means to a final goal or achievement, rather than a source of personal satisfaction. After admission to the bar, the requirement to engage in continuing legal education tends to reiterate the idea that continued learning is a chore – a box to be ticked, a means to an end, something to be endured. A requirement feels like pressure. Pressure generates anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
I challenge you to view your continued professional development as an opportunity to focus on recapturing that inherent spark and passion for learning that lies deep within and to develop your own, individualized continuing education plan that not only completes your requirements and keeps you up to date on your particular practice area, but also includes some outside-the-box topics and creative opportunities to challenge your brain and to reignite that spark for learning and your passion for the profession.
Here are my top 6 tips for a professional development plan that makes checking that box a lot less stressful and (hopefully) a lot more fun!
- Break It Down & Schedule It Out. Attorneys are required to obtain 30 hours over a 2-year reporting period. That seems overwhelming, right? But let’s break that down – it’s actually just 1.25 hours per month. Plot out an hour and 15 minutes of time each month and dedicate that time to participation in a webinar, an e-learning module, or even a lunch hour or other short duration in-person event.
- Bulk Up with CLE Conferences. If you have an annual conference that you attend that provides a large chunk of CLE credits, calculate the average number of credits and then go back to the first item on this list. Your monthly requirement just got smaller!
- Mix It Up. Don’t do all of your learning in one environment. Attend seminars in person, participate in live webcasts. Try out an online on-demand program. Make the method of participation fit your schedule and your needs. And get out of your office from time to time. Watch a webcast sitting in the park. Listen to an audio download while you are taking your daily walk.
- Get Outside Your Practice Zone. Never practiced criminal law but watch a lot of Law & Order? Attend a criminal law basics program. More of a CSI fan? Make sure you get some programs about forensic evidence in the mix. Improv Skills for Lawyers? Sounds like a fun way to learn! Make sure that you reach outside your usual areas of interest and try something new.
- Get Physical (or Metaphysical). Try one of the new programs offered by LAP that incorporates yoga or mindfulness training into the mix. Incorporating physical or mental exercise into your learning is great for retention, but it’s also great for resetting your stress level.
- Don’t Let Your Budget Stress You Out. If you’re anxious about the cost, include some free or low-cost options in your plan. The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, the ARDC, and others have some outstanding programs available online to Illinois attorneys online at no cost. There are others out there too! IICLE has a free program focused on representing veterans. Many providers offer some great quality programs for free or low cost.
No matter what you decide to do with your plans for continuing education, make sure that it is personally satisfying to you. Give yourself the gift of stress reduction by thinking ahead and planning accordingly – and making sure that your plans include a little something above the minimum!