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CLE on demand: Meet your requirements without leaving the office

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Sometimes Andrea Gage will catch a class during her lunch hour. Other times, it’s from the comfort of her couch.

Wherever she downloads a State Bar of Wisconsin CLE OnDemand course, Gage said she likes that she can to tailor the experience to her timetable.

“I really like the ability to pause it and come back to it,” said Gage, an attorney and a spokeswoman for the bar association. “There have been times when I’ve rewound it and watched a segment again. And, since so many of us are accustomed to using multiple forms of media during the day, being able to watch something on my computer really holds my attention.”

Gage is just one of hundreds of attorneys who have been using the OnDemand program since it started in 2007. In fact, fiscal year 2014 had the highest enrollment to date with 861 users.

Tim Clark thinks part of the reason for the increase — until now enrollment hung around 600 users a year — is that people are getting more comfortable with technology. He suspects the bar’s efforts to let attorneys know about courses in their practice areas also helped.

“We have a webcast component and an OnDemand component for nearly all our available classes,” said Clark, an attorney and the seminars manager for PINNACLE, the Wisconsin Bar Association’s Continuing Legal Education Department.

So, if attorneys can’t or don’t want to attend a classroom session for annual updates on estate planning they can catch a live webcast or watch it at their convenience OnDemand.

Prices range from $75 to $99 on the lower end and $249 to $299 on the higher end, with discounts for bar members. Attorneys have 90 days of access to their OnDemand classes, which can range from 60 to 100 minutes or a full eight-hour class.

“We’re trying to make it a little bit quick-hitting,” Clark said. “Schedule it over the lunch hour. Make it less of a time commitment for attorneys.”

There are a few restrictions, however.

Of the 30 CLE credits attorneys need during their two-year reporting periods, only 10 can come from OnDemand courses. And anyone hoping to reinstate a license can’t rely on OnDemand.

But, otherwise, attorneys can use OnDemand for virtually any course, without worrying about getting an abbreviated or water-downed version of a class.

So far, solo practitioners and members of mid-sized firms seem to be most drawn to those offerings, at least those are the groups the bar suspects are taking most of the OnDemand courses.

“Our general target is much more the small solos and midsized firms,” Clark said. “The larger firms tend to have a national contract with somebody, like Westlaw or Nexis, and they also have their own internal CLE programs.

So, we don’t get a whole lot of activity from larger firms.”

Attorney Nick Passe, who worked solo for about six months before joining the eight-attorney firm Moen Sheehan Meyer Ltd. in La Crosse, said he has used the program a handful of times in the past few years.

“Sometimes I’ll watch a streaming event over lunch or block off a morning or an afternoon,” the former president of the La Crosse Young Lawyers Association said. “I just like that you can access helpful CLEs any time, day or night.”

One change he’d like to see, an idea echoed in the legal community, would be adding a feature that shows an attorney is actively observing the video.

“Maybe a button that you have to click every hour to show you’re watching?” Passe said.

So far, Clark said, the bar hasn’t seen any signs of abuse. But, he added, concerns about too much “self-study” are part of the reason attorneys are limited to collecting only 10 credits online every two years.

For now, Gage said, the online option seems to be a convenient way to wrap up credits at the end of a cycle or kickstart a new reporting period; a practice she’s adopted as a motivator to earn her remaining 20 CLEs.

However she uses the program, Gage said it’s a good fit for her.

“Sometimes it’s something that’s directly related to my job,” she said, “and sometimes it’s a program that isn’t directly related but something that I’ve always been curious about or was interested in in law school.”

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