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Law Office of Robert J. Ambrogi
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December 2004

Correspondence Courses for the Internet Era

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Most states now allow lawyers to satisfy at least part of their continuing legal education requirement with credits earned through the Internet.

Online CLE offers the convenience of coursework on your schedule, directly from your office or home.

This month, we take a look at some of the providers of online CLE.

A CLE provider for half a century, ALI-ABA offers online education through its ALI-ABA Direct-to-Desktop CLE. These courses combine streaming audio and printable written materials adapted from selected ALI-ABA lectures. A second line of enhanced courses combines streaming audio or video, dynamic visual presentations and graphics, printable written materials, and user discussion areas. Most courses cost $69. The site also offers audio presentations on estate planning through its Audio Estate Planner Online. These programs cost $9.95 each. ALI-ABA also offers simultaneous Webcasts of the satellite broadcasts it provides through the American Law Network.

An early innovator in online CLE, the Texas-based CLE Online strives to retain many of the elements of a traditional CLE seminar. Each seminar has a materials library that contains the prepared materials for the seminar. Most seminars include either audio or video materials that you can access on demand. There is also a discussion area for each seminar that serves as the primary forum for the instructors and the participations to interact. The cost is $20 per credit hour or $25 for a one-hour program. Many of its courses focus on Texas law, but others cover broader topics.

Among online CLE providers, Cognistar stands out for both its content and its technology. The courses it offers are original, developed and produced specifically for online learning. It uses nationally recognized instructors drawn from leading law firms and academic institutions. Its courseware is intuitive and user friendly. A user can switch between video, audio and text modes, while following along with a verbatim transcript of the presentation. A panel to the right of the screen displays exhibits corresponding to the appropriate segment of the presentation. A notepad allows users to maintain personal notes on each course. Through an alliance with LexisNexis, Cognistar distributes its programs through the LexisNexis Professional Development Center.

The Defense Research Institute, an organization of defense lawyers, offers streaming video of its seminars via the Web. Topics focus on trial and appellate practice but also include corporate governance, civil rights, employment, ethics, intellectual property, and others. Most programs cost $55.

Michigan's Institute of Continuing Legal Education was a pioneer in using the Internet to provide lawyers with easy access to CLE programs and materials. Its Web site features complete listings of its publications and courses available for purchase. The ICLE offers an extensive catalog of online courses, but these are available only to members of its "Partnership" program, which requires an annual subscription. Beyond CLE, the ICLE site stands out for its Michigan legal library, including current court opinions, court rules and orders, and links to state law-related Web sites.

Law.com recently reorganized its online CLE offerings into what it calls the Law.com CLE Center. Courses are presented through a "classroom" that uses Macromedia Flash to stream video and Adobe Acrobat to present course materials. As you watch a presentation, you can also view the speaker's slides in sync with the program. You can search for seminars by state and topic. If you have trouble finding or using a program, you can contact one of Law.com's live "CLE counselors." Seminar content is produced by Law.com and American Lawyer Media and also in conjunction with partners that include Law Journal Press, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the Center for Continuing Education, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and others.

LegalSpan.com is the technology engine behind the online CLE catalogs of some 37 state bar associations in the United States. Its Web site does not directly offer CLE, but instead links to the catalogs of each of its partners. A CLE provider since 1933, Practising Law Institute offers a series of MCLE-approved video programs via the Web. All programs are recent, full, one- or two-day CLE courses, presented in their entirety, together with the course book. Each program is indexed for quick movement to individual presentations or particular topics. Each speaker's key points are bulleted and synchronized with the video. Course handbooks can be downloaded and printed. Each program includes an online discussion forum and links to related PLI materials and related Web resources. Programs cost from $129 to $1,249 each, with a sample program available free. PLI also offers live, simultaneous Webcasts of many of its programs.

A division of West, RutterOnline provides online CLE in topics ranging from bankruptcy to substance abuse. Courses are presented in audio or video format, with newer courses using Windows Media format and older ones using RealPlayer. Course materials are provided in Adobe Acrobat format. Courses cost anywhere from $26 to $420, or you can purchase a pass allowing one year of unlimited access for $495. Visitors can try a seminar free for an hour. Participants are eligible to earn CLE credit in California.

Taecan.com is a professional education company that provides online CLE, much of it designed in collaboration with state and local bar associations. Its partners include the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, the Washington Law Institute, the State Bar of California, the Missouri Bar, the New York City Bar, the Houston Bar Association, the South Texas College of Law, the Florida Bar, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and others. Taecan offers a variety of accredited courses, each costing $25 to $50 per credit hour. Course materials are well organized and include links to full text cases and statutes. Some courses are in audio format, others are text based.

With more than 4,300 online CLE programs from more than 90 local, state and national providers covering virtually every field of law, the West LegalEdcenter is a comprehensive source of online CLE. Programs are presented in either audio or video formats. Prices for programs vary widely, depending on the source of the program and its format and length. The site includes a guide to state CLE requirements.

The American Bar Association's Center for Continuing Legal Education provides a variety of CLE programming online, as well as complete information on its more traditional products, from satellite seminars to books on tape. Its online products include CLE Now!, a set of free audio programs from nationally known lecturers; Webcasts of recorded programs, either in audio or video format, accompanied in some cases by electronic slides and in all cases by downloadable course materials; and The Online Partner, a feature for providing CLE online using audio, video and text.


© 2005 Robert J. Ambrogi.