How to use CLE to get new clients and new referral sources


When it comes to continuing legal education (the mandatory kind), there are two types of attorneys:

  1. Those who take the classes only because they need the credits (98%), and
  2. Everyone else.

C’mon, be honest. If you weren’t required to do so, would you have signed up for most of the CLE classes you’ve taken over the years? How about if they were free?

Me neither.

But this is not a post about how ridiculous it is to compel professionals to do what the realities of a competitive marketplace already do. No, this is a post about how to make money with CLE.

Want to know how?

Okay, there’s a very simple way to leverage the time you spend taking CLE to grow your law practice. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have to listen to the presenters and you have to take notes. No playing games while the audio is playing. And no multi-tasking, either. You actually have to pay attention.

Yeah, I know, I’m not doing a very good job of convincing you that this is a good thing, but it is.

So you take notes of the CLE programs you take and when you’re done, you write a one page summary of each class or each segment. Kinda like a brief. Actually, you can put it into any format you want: a summary, FAQ’s, case studies–whatever floats your boat. You can even record an audio if you want.

You with me?

The next thing you do is distribute your summaries to people who might like to see them. You can send them to people you know or you can contact people you don’t know and offer to send them. Or any combination thereof.

To whom do you send them (or offer to send them)?

  • Your competition. You lose nothing by giving this information to other lawyers in your practice area(s). They still have to take the class if they want the credit but your gesture of good will is certain to be appreciated and remembered. They next time you need a favor, some information or advice, you’ll have a ready made list of people willing to help you out. And the next time they have a conflict of interest on a case or otherwise have to refer out a matter, you might just be on their short list.
  • Other non-competitive attorneys. This is where you can really score some points. Take that tax class you just completed and slant your summary for attorneys who don’t practice tax law but need to know something about it. Summarize the changes in SSD for PI lawyers. You get the idea. By delivering value to attorneys in other practice areas, you position yourself as an expert in your area and someone worth knowing. If nothing else, your summaries give you a great excuse to contact potential referral sources and initiate a relationship.
  • Other professionals/referral sources. Financial planners, real estate, insurance, CPA’s–other professionals need to stay informed about the legal issues that affect what they do. Your summaries can spare them the time and trouble of wading through a mountain of information they don’t need and will undoubtedly earn their appreciation.
  • Prospects/clients. Obviously, you need to make the information suitable for lay people and you’ll probably want to avoid mentioning where you got it, but educating your clients and prospects about the legal issues they face and the available solutions (that you can provide, of course) is always a good strategy.

There are other ways to use your CLE notes. You can turn them into articles and blog posts, reports and ebooks, talking points for a speech or seminar, and hey, you can even use it in your actual, honest-to-goodness legal work. Imagine that.

As you can see, with a little creativity you can leverage the time you spend taking CLE classes (and writing summaries thereof) to create some simple tools you can use to grow your practice.

Now, for extra credit, here’s something else you can do: send your summaries to the author or presenter of the CLE class. They may not have any use for it but they will be pleased that someone actually paid attention and took notes. You now have a new contact, a well-regarded attorney who might just know some people you would like to meet and who might be willing to make those introductions.

And hey, they might even give you the hook up so you can submit your own CLE program. If you do, let me know how many credits I can get. I need 36 units and I’m way behind.



  1. This is a great idea. But, I go to CLE for the learning, not for the credits. I need 12 credits of mandatory CLE per year. I have 49.6 so far this year. Why do we perpetuate systems that 98% of people don’t believe in? They do just enough to meet the rule and no more. Why can’t we emphasize the purpose and desire of learning and not require a number. So many systems require a number or a form or a certificate and don’t require what we really wanted in the first place.

    • I should have mentioned that going to LIVE CLE classes is a great way to network. Do you do that Ed?

    • I think people resent being coerced into spending time and money on classes they aren’t interested in. If all that’s offered is outside your practice area, too basic, or boring, it colors your view of the whole process.

      I’m not sure how you do it, Ed, but I think it’s great that you get so much out of CLE.