Getting your CLE credits in Minnesota has just gotten a lot more convenient. The Minnesota Supreme Court just issued a decision approving the acceptance of “on demand” CLE program credits beginning in July. The Court has decided to limit acceptance to one third of the required 45 credits taken during each three year reporting cycle. This change will bring some interesting new choices for practicing Minnesota lawyers, and perhaps some unintended consequences.
This reform will likely mean that credits will be easier to obtain for lawyers who are not in population centers in which live and video programming is offered, or for lawyers whose schedules preclude them from obtaining credits during the usual business hours of the work week, whether through in-person or web-cast presentations. One can now curl up snug in your pajamas, in the middle of the night or on weekends, and settle in for stimulating updates on the Rule Against Perpetuities viewed from the comfort and convenience of your own bed. As with on-demand TV,” binge viewing” CLEs is also about to be possible.
When the court first required lawyers to obtain CLE credits, an instant new education marketplace was created. Under the constraints of the current rules, however, the biggest purveyors of CLE credit tended to be of Minnesota grown origin. The new rules will open up a third of the state’s market to much more global competition. With the entry of new competitors, will also come greater price competition. Soon entrepreneurs from across the land will be able to come to Minnesota with their bundles of credits and sell them for cheap. Such cheap CLE credits may not always be a bargain. One way you can make a living selling things for cheap, is by making those things cheaply, so there is still room for profit.
The question for all of us is: will on-demand be a good thing on balance? Time will tell. How will our excellent Minnesota based CLE providers choose to compete? Will they just try to undercut the new products, based on cost, and at the risk of a loss of quality? They can’t simply do the same thing, and expect to flourish when their market has been cut by a third. Perhaps they will try to differentiate themselves in a way that will attract lawyer dollars despite the convenient and inexpensive competition?
I am reminded of how our home grown Target made its success here (oops, giving away my age there). It wasn’t just discount stuff with more cachet. Target made a statement about their commitment to community by pledging a decent percentage of their revenue to community charities. For a lot of Minnesota consumers, that mattered. Would we rather our hard earned dollars go to a wealthy family in Arkansas, or might we feel better knowing a portion of whatever we spend comes right back to help those in need in our own community? Maybe our local CLE providers will take a page from that playbook. They could distinguish themselves by giving back more than they do now. In so doing, we are more likely to recognize their brand as special and care that they get our dollars.
I, for one, am willing to pay to support those providers who do the most for our legal community. Having made a career choice to be a practicing lawyer, I try to take the long view of such things. In the long run, I get a lot more bang for my CLE dollar, if I spend it with those who most support the goals of our profession and the Minnesota justice system.