CLE: The Malignant Tumor of the Legal Profession


The second to last thing I want to be doing on a Friday afternoon is sitting in a CLE class trying to pay attention to some droning tax partner talking about the newest updates to “the Code”—whatever the hell that is. (The last thing I want to be doing?  Going to work and listening to a droning tax partner.) Unfortunately, I have been woefully unprepared when it comes to staying on top of my CLEs.

A few years back when I was just starting out, there was a minor mention of CLEs at orientation. Get them done or risk . . . something bad happening? I was pretty hungover at the time. And I never ever gave it much thought for the subsequent several years. But it turns out there are some serious repercussions for fucking off CLEs after all.

CLEs are like a cyst that you don’t take care of. At first, it seems like nothing—a glorified zit—so you just ignore it for a few years and hope it will go away. But the more you ignore it, the bigger it gets. Eventually, it becomes a serious problem. Mine is now stage-four and can only be removed by showing up for a bunch of BS classes. That’s assuming I don’t want to risk being put on “inactive status.” And while “inactive” sounds pretty cool, I unfortunately think it’s something like when a cop shoots an old lady 44 times because he thought the can of tuna fish she was holding was a gun—also known as suspended without pay!!

I realize 24 credits every two years doesn’t sound like much. And maybe most of you think I’m crazy for even suggesting that this is an ordeal.  But, in my mind, it’s like having to go to the dentist every two weeks. Once law school ended, I thought I was done with classes, done with lectures by some pretentious blowhard regarding things with very little practical application in the real world. I mentally shut off that part of my brain, never to be used again. So, when I tuned into this whole CLE thing, I was incapable and unwilling to turn that part back on. The few CLE’s I went to at the start of my legal career confirmed my belief that they are useless exercises—a state-mandated time suck from doing actual legal work. And the cherry on top is the fact that they always take place at a time when I actually have shit to do.

Especially now. There are whispers of more people getting fired, and I’m falling back into old habits by slacking off and shirking responsibility on a deal that’s about to close. We are trying to get it all done, and soon. Unfortunately for me, this CLE thing isn’t going away—the unceasing harassment I’m getting from HR proves that—so now I have to squeeze in a boatload of CLE’s while not screwing up multiple deals that are simultaneously closing all while trying to maintain a faltering relationship with my girlfriend.

So as a nod to my upcoming CLE requirement deadline, I made a short list of things I’ve actually learned over the course of my legal career in what I consider Matthew Richardson’s version of Continuing Legal Education:

1. Don’t Pick Up the Phone When a Partner Calls

There has never, ever been a time where a partner called my office just to chitchat. No matter how chummy you are with partners at your firm, they see you as the help. Therefore, if you’re like me and like to decide what work you take on to avoid it not being dropped on you, this is a critical rule.

2. Establish a Good Rapport with Your Secretary

Despite some of my rumblings in earlier columns (which I hope my secretary has never read—though judging by her work performance, I don’t think she reads so well anyway. HA! Kidding, Nancy!), your secretary is your very best line of defense in this world. As the fielder of all your phone calls, she can really nail you to the cross if she feels like it.

If you want to be left alone, you need to be tight enough with your secretary to be able to get her to lie for you. And I’m not just talking about lying to partners at your firm. I’m talking about lying to life partners. “No, Matt is on an all-night conference call, but he was just telling everyone here how much he misses you!” Nice work, Nancy! I better get you another Starbucks gift card. Even though bonuses are down, take care of her at the end of the year. She can make or break you.

3. Don’t Treat First-Years as Equals

Even if you like them and drink beers with them and occasionally hit up strip clubs with them, at the end of the day, you need to keep pushing the shit downhill. You don’t want to be in a situation where some first-year is questioning why he has to work on a Friday night while you’re getting lap dances. So set him straight early and keep your boundaries—but occasionally throw him a bone and buy him a nice dinner or scotch on your own dime. (Well, maybe get it reimbursed later by the HR chick you banged but now keeps torturing you over CLE credits.) Let him think you appreciate his efforts. It will go a long way when he’s covering your ass because you’re nursing a hangover and neglecting to make sure the closing is going smoothly.

4. Put a Whiteboard Up in Your Office

Make a list of all the deals you’re on. And here’s the key: Never, ever erase any of the deals you have completed. Even if you are actually only on one or two deals, anyone who walks in will say, “Wow, how does Matt manage it all?”

Same goes for your desk. Messier the better. Closing binders should be opened to random sections so it looks like you are multitasking as we speak.

5.  Make Damn Sure People See You If You Work in the Office on Weekends

Otherwise you are just being a dipshit. You could have done that work in your underwear while watching College Gameday. It’s worth its weight in gold if multiple partners see you in the office on a Saturday.

6. Never Mention Female Co-Workers to Your Girlfriend

What am I saying? You already know this.  But if you absolutely must, make them sound as hideous as possible. Use words like “mole,” “cleft,” and “lazy eye,” whenever possible when describing any female colleague.

7. Don’t Go to the Strip Club Across the Street from Your Office

Especially since it’s a third-tier joint. Find a place far away from your office where the women all have ten fingers and ten toes.

8. Almost Forgot—CLEs are Important

Apparently. So make sure to stay on top of that shit.

And with that, class is adjourned. Carry on, fellow comrades.

Read more Unethical & Amoral.

13 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    December 3, 2009 at 5:09 am

    This is a cool guy, this Matt Richardson.  I have but one good thing to say about these CLE’s.  They are not all that bad, and there is a bright side.  On Monday afternoon, I was very bored sitting in a 2 hour CLE on Human Resources updates.  So was this buxom lady lawyer who was a firm client also needing CLE.  I mentioned to her that I did not know anything about HR issues, and asked her out for a drink afterward.  She agreed and we had more than a few.  She invited me back to her place for a snack, and I stayed overnite.  The next morning, I went right into work with the same clothes and in need of a shave.  But I learned a lot because of that CLE.  I expect to meet the woman again, also, all because of CLE.  I think I may learn to like this CLE!

  2. Bitter Overseas

    December 3, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Having read this, I’m again thankful that I live in and work in a jurisdiction which does not have any CLE requirements or the like. Pass the bar and that’s it! On the other hand, the mandatory 1 year internship is terrible enough to make up for it…

  3. BL1Y

    December 3, 2009 at 6:35 am

    This reminds me that I need to e-mail my old firm’s professional development shepherdess again to try to get my damn CLE certificates.  In just one year I managed to rack up almost enough credits for two years.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single skills credit, so I still have to figure out where those are coming from.

  4. PGuy

    December 3, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I make part of my living presenting at firm CLEs. I was middle of my class at a T20 law school, but made a name for myself by writing a book on online legal research. Now I make $4000 a day giving the most boring presentations you can imagine. I love nothing more than watching hungover associates drift in and out of consciousness as I drone on about irrelevant crap. It’s my revenge on all those gunners we hated so much in school. My incredibly convoluted explanation of search engine algorithms is just code for “eat it, bitches.” HA!

  5. Cheryl

    December 3, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    OMG—I luv PGuy

  6. manda

    December 3, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    yeah, i always feel bad for the people that have to stay till the end to get the certificate that they were there.  we don’t need it in my state, but if my office sends me, i go for a few hours and then have a free day!

  7. SFLawyer

    December 3, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Don’t we all Manda

  8. Carl

    December 4, 2009 at 5:27 am

    If we could get ladies like the one in the picture to host our CLE’s, I would start going.  Right now, the only place to find women like that is in the “theatre” district, but it costs money to find a woman willing to dance like that, and I don’t want to pay for CLE unless I can fulfill ALL of my requirements at the same time.

  9. loving the law a little

    December 4, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Funny, Richardson. You are a gentleman—you appreciate your secretary—and you might be a scholar if they found a use for your lucid prose, which as you indicate, they most of the time don’t. Where are those strip clubs where the women all have ten fingers and toes anyway? Just wondering.

  10. Miserable associate

    December 4, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I once had an all day CLE thing that I tried to get a friend to sign me in for because I was hungover. He wouldn’t do it. He is now my sworn enemy.

  11. Dannieb

    December 4, 2009 at 11:42 am

    You crack me up man!

  12. RLY

    December 9, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Your wrong man. CLE’s are great. You sign in haul ass out the door and you have a couple days to fuck off at firm expense. Entertainment expenses are reimbursed, its a great system

  13. Ellen

    February 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I do NOT like this man. He objectivizes ME as a WOMAN. I am more then a vaginal orefice for him to use when he wants. FOOEY on him. FOOEY!

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