Journeying through CLE’s Past, Present, and Future

A line of tomatoes signifying development

Welcome to our journey through the evolution of continuing legal education (CLE)!

In this blog post–based on the exciting presentation that Vocalmeet’s own Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste gave at ACLEA’s 60th Mid-Year Meeting–we’ll be taking a look at the not-so-distant history, current trends, and future possibilities of association CLE.

As association leaders, you’re likely well aware of the vital role that staying ahead plays in the ever-evolving legal field–in which CLE serves as everyone’s trusty guide!

So, let’s fasten our seat belts and get ready to explore the past, present, and future of CLE!

The Past: Geography and Scheduling and Bonus Costs, Oh My!

Once upon a time–but not that long ago!–legal professionals found themselves in a largely lecture and theory-based atmosphere. They were limited in their interaction opportunities and faced geographic, financial, and scheduling barriers that often left them missing out.

But, fear not; things were about to change!

Operations, programming, marketing, and website presence have undergone massive transformations, each playing a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of member-based organizations. Today, we’ll be looking at the evolution of each. Let’s start with the past:

  • Operations:  Administrative staff were tasked with tracking and recording credits, renewals, and course registrations manually, requiring massive amounts of time and effort.
  • Programming: Prior to the virtual shift of 2020, many CLE programs were held in-person, limiting accessibility for those with geographic, physical, or financial restrictions.
  • Marketing: In 2009, direct mail was considered most effective by 46% of those surveyed; in 2018, marketing emails and in-person promotion were considered most effective. (Wasserman et al., 2018)
  • Website Presence: In Marketing General’s 2018 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report, several of the surveyed associations mentioned their website as being a concern. (Wasserman et al., 2018)

Now, this isn’t to say that the years before 2020 were the dark ages–certainly not! eLearning is not new, and lecture-based continuing education continues even now.

There is a synergy that exists when combining the “old” (or at least, older) ways with the new; consider, for example, webinars. These combine traditional lecture-style presentations with the increased scope of an online audience. Same basic principle, much higher yield!

The Present: Embracing Technology for Enhanced eLearning

Fast forward to today, and CLE is moving to overcome traditional challenges. Communication and collaboration have only increased through the use of online tools, expanding accessibility with on-demand and hybrid courses.

Let’s now take a look at exactly what kind of online tools are being used:

Digital Platforms

Traditional event venues are evolving into digital spaces (or else combining with them!), offering flexibility through online on-demand and/or live streamed lectures. These can be hosted on online learning platforms, which offer members a whole host of resources: event registration, forums, resources, and–once an event is over–even recorded, on-demand versions of that very session!

E-Learning and Webinars

Remote, asynchronous learning is on the rise, allowing professionals to tailor education to their schedules. No more travel or scheduling conflicts; members can learn what they want, when they want, where they want!

Collaborative Platforms

Technology fosters collaboration through communication tools and platforms, enabling efficient teamwork in geographically dispersed settings. Consider, for example, how we no longer need to be in the same room to collaborate; this means something like a mentorship program can match mentors and mentees together, regardless of location, and let them share their skills.

This increased technological integration in the present ensures that associations are well-equipped to help members navigate the complexities of the contemporary legal landscape. The industry may change quickly, but with the right technology, it’s a breeze to keep up!

And what of our four favourite factors (operations, programming, marketing, and website presence)? Let’s take a look at what the present holds!

  • Operations: Cloud-based Association Management Systems (AMS) can have a considerable impact on the organizational effectiveness of today’s organizations, as they can increase operational efficiency while also reducing administrative costs and burdens.
  • Programming: Fueled by the pandemic, the eLearning industry saw record growth in 2020; it’s expected to reach $465 billion by 2028. This highlights a growing demand for flexible, accessible CLE options. (Holst, 2023)
  • Marketing: Hubspot notes that in 2023, segmented emails drive 30% more opens and 50% more click-throughs than unsegmented ones. (Kirsch, 2022)
  • Website Presence: Mobile users are projected to increase from 6.95 billion in 2020 to 7.49 billion in 2025. (Taylor, 2023) This indicates the importance of ensuring your association’s website–and CLE!–is mobile accessible and responsive.

One can only ask: what does the future hold?

The Future: AI-Enabled Efficiency

Let’s now gaze into our crystal balls and take a moment to explore the thrilling possibilities that CLE is predicted to meet.

AI simulations will transport us into practical real-world scenarios that provide immersive experiences that enhance practical knowledge and provide a controlled environment for refining skills. Members will be able to use tools like Zoom and the Metaverse to hold mock trials to gain valuable, more hands-on experience than presentations alone.

AI algorithms will also allow associations to create personalized education paths for individual members based on their behaviour on the platform. Consider the YouTube algorithm: it pays attention to the kinds of videos you show interest in, then recommends things it thinks you will like based on this data (and that data of other users with similar interests). Tailored paths will work in a similar vein.

And what of our friends, operations, programming, marketing, and website presence? We expect they will likely be characterized as follows:

  • Operations:  By 2028, generative AI will reshape customer service and support. (Gartner, 2023) This will allow associations to transfer the burden of FAQs and common support to AI representatives.
  • Programming: The virtual reality education market is expected to grow from 11.8 billion in 2023 to 61.55 billion in 2028, affecting all levels of education. (The Business Research Company, 2023)
  • Marketing: The Metaverse is projected to reach 1 billion users by 2030 (Futureiot Editors, 2023), presenting exciting opportunities for associations to host virtual events, build communities, and personalize member experiences.
  • Website Presence: Learning Management Platforms will increasingly use AI to track user behavior and recommend personalized learning paths for members, as well as promote content suited to their interests.

Overall, our vision of the future emphasizes advanced technologies, a data-centric approach, and a focus on delivering personalized and immersive experiences.

You may also like: Building Better CLE: Tips for Bar Associations

What Do I Do Now?

While adapting to change can be scary, there are three simple things you can do to ensure that your association–and its members–thrive.

  • Focus on Staff Training: We only fear technology when we don’t know it. The best way to ready an association for the future is to ensure staff is consistently trained and up-to-date with what’s out there.
  • Boost Your Cybersecurity: This goes hand-in-hand with staff training; after all, you want your staff prepared for the types of attacks (e.g. phishing or ransomware) that could happen. Changing technology means new threats–but don’t worry! Arm yourself with knowledge (and some security audits!) and you’ll be in a better position to stay safe and secure.
  • Ethical Considerations: One of the scariest things about AI is the idea that it’s going to replace us. This notion plagues every industry, and legal is no exception! In reality, however, AI is just a tool. The help or harm comes from how it’s used. AI should be used to enhance, not replace–so make sure to ally your association with organizations who understand this important distinction.  

When it comes down to it, the evolution of CLE is one born of the desire to make members’ lives better. The shift from more lecture-based learning to technology-enabled sessions increases collaboration and flexibility, while AI of the near future promises tailored learning paths for every member. Remember: the more intuitive, accessible, and cost-efficient the CLE, the wider the audience it’ll gain!

So, here’s to the evolution of CLE in the ever-changing world of law. May your association’s adventure be ever filled with continuous learning, growth, and success!

Hungry for more? Check out the one-pager version from the event HERE!



Editors, F. (2023, October 20). AI to fuel one billion metaverse users by 2030. FutureIoT.

Gartner. (2023, August 30). Gartner Reveals Three Technologies That Will Transform Customer Service and Support By 2028. Gartner.

Holst, R. (2023, April 24). Council Post: Growth Despite A Downturn: Predictions For The Hybrid Learning Industry. Forbes.

Kirsch, K. (2022, November 30). The Ultimate List of Email Marketing Stats for 2022. Hubspot.

Taylor, P. (2023, January 18). Forecast number of mobile users worldwide 2019-2023 | Statista. Statista; Statista.

The Business Research Company. (2023, January). Virtual Reality In Education Market Size 2022 And Growth Analysis.

Wasserman, A., Kerr, M., & Rossell, T. (2018). WWW.MARKETINGGENERAL.COM SUPERVISED BY: Tony Rossell Senior Vice President 2018 MEMBERSHIP MARKETING BENCHMARKING REPORT.