Writing at Above the Law brings you fame, if not fortune: Two different groups (an ABA Committee and a CLE outfit) recently asked me to help design courses that would be irresistible to all in-house lawyers. These guys wanted me to pick topics for “must attend” programs — events that no in-house lawyer could afford to miss.
My first reaction was this: Are you kidding me?
If I’d stumbled onto the “must read” topic for all in-house lawyers, don’t you suppose I would have shared that insight in these columns? If I knew what everyone really wanted to know, would I still be filling my twice-weekly slot here at ATL with random musings and pontifications?
But my second reaction was better: Now, at long last, I’ve figured it out….
I figured out that it’s theoretically impossible to design courses or articles that will irresistibly attract all in-house lawyers.
Think first by analogy: A decade ago, an old college classmate of mine became chair of our school’s local alumni group. Over lunch one day, he asked me what events this group could host that would draw large numbers of local alumni.
The answer to that, of course, is “none.” The alumni are doctors and lawyers and investment bankers; architects and artists and physicists; scholars and producers and stay-at-home parents. These people have absolutely nothing in common with each other except the college they happened to attend. There is no subject (except perhaps the old college itself or, for some schools, the old college’s athletic teams) that is likely to interest a broad cross-section of alumni.
In-house lawyers are the same type of group. It’s true that we all work in-house. Other than that, however, we have nothing in common. We’re employment lawyers and immigration lawyers and patent lawyers; we’re litigators and transactional lawyers; we do tax and M&A. We’re specialists and we’re generalists. We work at public companies and private ones. What subject could possibly be of interest to all those disparate people?
So what is a “must-attend” CLE course for in-house lawyers? It’s the same thing for in-house people as it is for lawyers at firms: The only topics that compel our attention are those compelled by the force of law. Offer an hour of CLE on one of the mandatory topics — ethics or substance abuse or (for Californians) “eliminating bias in the law.” And offer those programs near the end of a CLE compliance period, when large numbers of folks will realize that they’re still short a mandatory hour or two. We’ll attend those programs not necessarily because we care (although some of us may) but because we have no choice.
That’s the “must attend” event for in-house lawyers. Other than that, I’m afraid I can’t help.
Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link) and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.