Transforming your practice through e-learning

Issue June 2011 By Ellen Murphy

In his most recent book, The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services (Oxford University Press, 2008), legal scholar and law futurist Richard Susskind discusses a number of disruptive technologies that, collectively, "will fundamentally change the face of legal services."

Susskind's list of technologies that will disrupt law practice includes e-learning. He predicts, and we are seeing evidence, that legal e-learning will "most obviously … transform the way in which lawyers, at all levels, are educated and trained." Already, the American Bar Association allows credit for 12 hours of distance education toward the JD.1

For you, as practicing lawyers, e-learning is transforming continuing legal education from traditional, "just-in-case" courses and seminars to "just-in-time" knowledge, that, Susskind says, "is at the fingertips of lawyers, delivered electronically, and easy to assimilate and apply." This transformation is accelerating through innovative ways and means of e-learning, making relevant, up-to-date information more widely available - including law office and practice management offerings.

The following are but a few examples of e-learning portals with especially useful law office management options, each of which can help transform your practice, allowing you to provide your clients with more and better value.

  • Solo Practice University, a web-based educational community designed to teach the basics of running a solo practice, has a number of courses on management, marketing and technology. Access to the courses is available via monthly, quarterly or yearly subscriptions, each of which entitles you to unlimited courses during the subscription period. Added benefits include substantive coursework, a networking community of similarly situated practitioners, and previews of course syllabi.
  • Legal Talk Network, an online media network, features free, original, professionally produced podcasts with high-profile guests in an easy talk show format. A number of the network's regular shows are devoted to practice management issues, including The Un-billable Hour, Law Technology Now, Legal Three Point Oh! and Legal Toolkit. Podcasts are available on-demand not only through the network's website, but in a host of user-friendly and portable options, including ITunes U, free RSS subscriptions and various social media sites.
  • Concord Law School's online Small Business Practice LLM is designed for those who want an in-depth study of the legal issues unique to small business, an area often overlooked in law school. The part-time program is delivered completely online, with downloadable lectures, synchronous classes and electronic course materials, by both practitioners and academics from around the country. The curriculum includes not only courses dedicated to the issues that are especially important to start-up enterprises and small firms, but a strong focus on the law firm as a small business itself, with a law practice management course co-taught by two of the country's experts.
  • West LegalEdcenter provides access not only to practice management and other CLE, but live conferences and seminars, more than 7,000 online courses, compliance tracking for each state, and various learning management tools. Courses are available at virtually every price point, as are annual flat-fee subscriptions, and are searchable in multiple ways, including by topic and states of accreditation. Perhaps most terrific about West's portal is the breadth of their content partners, resulting in the provision of programs from outstanding local, state and national bar associations, legal and academic groups, available in one place and delivered right to your desk.

These are only a tiny sample of the more sophisticated and accessible means of learning better and more efficient practice management ideas and skills. As you search for new and innovative learning tools, don't overlook the blogosphere. It can be daunting, as there are an increasing number of sites dedicated to these issues; but with a bit of research and a few RSS subscriptions, you will have expert advice on management, technology and marketing delivered daily to your computer.

A good starting place for research is the ABA's GP Solo Blog list or the Blawg Directory. A lesser-known favorite of mine is the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program's blog, which provides quality content (always with appropriate humor) and expert guest posts from around the country.

Adapting the famous words of science fiction writer William Gibson, "The future [of e-learning for lawyers] is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed." Fortunately for you, the distribution channels are increasing and improving, offering more and more accessible, flexible and affordable means of lifelong learning.

Ellen Murphy, JD, is the program director of the Small Business Practice LL.M. at Kaplan University's Concord Law School, as well as the developer and professor for the school's Cross Profession Ethics course.

1ABA Accreditation Standard 306, Distance Education,