Vol. 45, No. 4

NABE Midyear Meeting breakout: In a digital world, how can you encourage in-person CLE attendance?

By Nancy Gray

Nancy Gray is director of communications at the Austin Bar Association.

More and more, busy attorneys are choosing to access CLE online by video or webcast, and many bars are increasing their customer base by recording live CLE and putting it online. This is a desired outcome, according to Virginia Izaguirre, director of program planning at the State Bar of Texas, and Alan Treleaven, director of education at the Law Society of British Columbia. But there is much value to be had in attending a live CLE event, they said, and bars can use both advertised and nonadvertised incentives to encourage attendance.

At the 2020 Midyear Meeting of the National Association of Bar Executives, Izaguirre and Treleaven shared their tips and strategies on how to attract attendees to live CLE events.

Advertised incentives

As space allows, Izaguirre and Treleaven recommended listing in promotional materials the following benefits of attending in-person CLE events:

  • Make the connections you need for the business you want: 80% of clients come from trusted sources such as fellow attorneys.
  • Be the first to learn of vital developments and potential changes in your practice area.
  • Gain guidance and support from face-to-face Q&A with course faculty.
  • Get inspired and motivated by connecting with judges, fellow attorneys, and other professionals—many with the same issues and concerns you have.
  • Take time away from the office to focus on CLE without distractions.

Think about ways to help attendees enjoy and make the most of their in-person experience, Izaguirre and Treleaven advised. One tip: Strategically place networking breaks. For example, place a networking break immediately following a panel containing judges, and let attendees know that they will be given time to mingle with the judges.

Also, let attendees know that speakers will be available for questions during a scheduled break following their presentation. Designate a specific area to be the “Speakers Bullpen” and use this area consistently. People will come to expect and count on this valuable Q&A time with featured speakers. (Note: Know your audience, Izaguirre and Treleaven said; in their experience, family and immigration law attorneys love this, but some litigators don’t.)

Sponsor socials immediately after CLE events. For example, host a networking reception honoring the judiciary following a day-long CLE.

Tailor sponsored events to the CLE. For example, for a CLE called “Putting the IP in IPA—Emerging Issues for Craft Brewery,” the sponsored event could be a networking social at a brewing company.

Use mobile apps for CLE events, Izaguirre and Treleaven recommended; they provide metrics and can help engage attendees. They specifically mentioned the free app Guidebook as a good tool to use for building a customized event app.

Speaking of technology, Izaguirre and Treleaven recommended using social media to advertise prior to the course. Spotlight the speakers of upcoming events. Post during the course and encourage attendees to do the same, they advised, noting that short videos are a great way to generate excitement and can be posted on social media and included in e-newsletters.

Nonadvertised incentives

Along with the incentives that you publicize, there are a number of things you can do more discreetly to encourage in-person attendance, Izaguirre and Treleaven said. For example, offer only part of the program online, via “best of” or other smaller bundles rather than the full content. Price the smaller bundles so that they cost the same as the live CLE event, but the viewer isn’t getting the networking and social component of attending the live event.

The State Bar of Texas makes content available for purchase online once it’s archived, Izaguirre noted. But the bar only posts basic “101” level courses, one-day courses, or those that are on specialized topics. For advanced courses, content is only available in bundles, in smaller packages with four or five topics, or as “CLE 15.” Izaguirre shared an example of how one specialized topic, immigration law, is offered:

Full course: Advanced Immigration Law

  • 13 hours with 4.25 ethics

Online bundle: Best of Advanced Immigration Law 2019: A Collection of the Top Rated Presentations

  • 6.5 hours with 2.75 ethics

Online CLE 15: Immigration Law 2018

  • 15 hours with 5.25 ethics
  • Includes content from the following live courses:
    • Advanced Immigration Law
    • Handling Your First (or Next) Asylum

Why repackage as bundles? The goal is to sell your program to a different audience, Izaguirre explained. Lawyers are often looking for specific topics; think about what a laywer in a specific practice area needs to know this year, and tailor a bundle to meet that need. Repurposing makes money, but it does take staff time to reorganize content and apply for the CLE credit for each bundle.

Also consider providing MP3s along with the videos so the content can be listened to while driving, Izaguirre added.

Get creative!

Looking for some ways to provide something extra for your in-person attendees? Izaguirre and Treleaven shared these additional tips that can help improve the overall experience:

  • Lawyers always need updated headshots. Hire a photographer to set up in the vendor exhibitor area and include a free sitting fee or digital print included in the price of attending the conference.
  • If you’re hosting an event for which a lot of attendees will come in from other areas, have speakers host dinners around town for those attendees who arrive the night before the conference begins.
  • Set the mood during conference breaks with high-top tables to encourage mingling. At lunches, provide dessert during the breaks rather than at the table, so people can chat in a more relaxed manner while moving around the room.

With a little time and effort, a dash of creativity, and knowledge of your audience, you can make sure your in-person CLEs are well attended and provide an excellent value to your attendees.