I’ve recently been reflecting on the differences between working for a Biglaw firm and doing contract work, and yes they are obvious and many. The pay, the respect, the security, the pay… well, the list goes on. Even for a lowly first year associate, whose job is literally the same pointing and clicking through documents that contract attorneys do, there are countless differences.

For example, there’s all the free stuff at law firms. The entire summer associate program (even in these decidedly leaner times) is a monument to the perks those with Biglaw jobs get. And though it may not be as sexy as box seats at a Yankee game, firms are also great about ponying up for bar dues and Continuing Legal Education credits. As a contractor you are pretty much on your own…

So, how do you find the best deal to stay “licensed in one or more jurisdiction”?

We all know that CLE requirements vary widely from state to state, so this isn’t a review of CLE programs I have taken or a list of the cheapest courses currently available. These are designed to be generally applicable tips to ensure you are getting the best value. Spending (and getting reimbursed for) $1,695 for a single CLE class seemed eminently reasonable when I was at Biglaw, and now is utterly ridiculous.

1. Do you really care what you are “learning” about?

YMMV on this one, but you have to ask yourself whether listening to 50 minutes on the “Basics of Defending a DUI case” is something you are willing to listening to. Or is “Regulations of the Financial Services Industry” more your speed? Or do you not care as long as it is cheap? Personally, I fall into the last category, but just know that if you are more persnickety about what you have to sit through you may be paying more for that luxury.

2. Invest in CLE Bundles

There are lots of CLE providers that offer bundles of a full year or two of all required CLEs for a single price, which prevents you from paying a premium for ethics credits. So if you are in a jurisdiction that allows online CLEs to fulfill your requirement you have lots of choices. Just a couple of cautionary notes: Prices vary wildly from provider to provider, so make sure you do a few searches to see what is a good deal for your jurisdiction. Also check how long you have to view the courses contained in the bundle, most will grant you access for a year or a similarly appropriate amount of time but you don’t want to unwittingly buy weekend only access and have to binge watch CLEs like it’s the new House of Cards season.

3. Mine your contacts

You are a professional, you likely have numerous professional contacts that may provide you with an opportunity to get CLEs on the cheap. The many bar associations offer deals (the ABA offers free CLE classes to members). I am not saying you should pay for a bar association membership in order to get free or discounted CLEs, but if you have it already, then you should look into it. If you happen to still live near your law school stomping grounds alumni events may also be a source of free CLE — it is the least law schools can due after bilking you for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

4. Share the info

As with any other product, CLEs go on sale all the time. CLEs may not seem like the perfect Christmas gift for the lawyer that has it all, but yet there were plenty of sales in December. These deals often have a short shelf life, so mention it to your fellow document monkeys when you happen across one. It is a nice, friendly thing to do and developing a rapport with the contractor sitting 6 inches away from you can really improve the overall atmosphere at work. They also may hear about different deals than you do, so do a solid and let folks know when you get a good deal.

5. Check out trade shows

The benefits of attending eDiscovery trade shows go beyond just the CLEs, as they can also be used as recruiting events or to develop your contacts. LegalTech is coming up in about a month, and they offer free registration (low cost for late registration) that will provide you access to several CLEs that are actually about the industry you are in. For those of you outside of NYC, there is also Virtual LegalTech, which attempts to re-create all of the trade show benefits online. They have day long events in March, September and November that offer free CLEs for that day.

Now if only I could get free bar registration…


Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting.  If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at [email protected]


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