Continuing Ed Seminars are required in many professions, and lawyers have to attend them according to their state’s requirements. Although I retired in 2020, I am keeping my license active for a couple of reasons- one, it took a lot of time and effort to get it, and two, I still do some work for my family or as a community service. In Nebraska, the requirement is 10 hours per year. That really isn’t much in terms of the time required, but frequently the seminars feel much longer than they are advertised to be, so it feels like 110 hours. One way to get a lot of hours in a short time is to attend the annual state bar convention, held every October.
Last week I decided to start chipping away at my requirement and signed up for two seminars at the convention- one about real estate and estate planning, and the other about the Lawyers Assistance Project, which helps legal professionals with substance abuse problems. The real estate/probate seminar started off with an interesting case- a man in Minnesota wanted to leave his house to his niece when he died, and his attorney prepared a delivery on death deed as part of his estate plan. That somewhat gruesomely named deed transfers ownership of the property after the death of the current owner, without probate court involvement. So the uncle died, but before the niece knew she was the new owner, the uncle’s disgruntled ex-wife burned the house down. When the niece made a claim under the homeowner’s insurance policy her uncle had on the home, State Farm denied her claim.
The niece sued the company, and said she didn’t know she owned the property, and couldn’t have insured it. State Farm ( Jake from the commercials is meaner than he looks) said it didn’t matter, the insurance contract expired when the uncle died. And several courts agreed with them. From a contract law perspective, this is accurate. But from a fairness and justice perspective, it stinks. How can you insure a property that you don’t know you own? What are estate planning attorneys supposed to do when recommending them to a client- ask if there are any disgruntled exes around who like to start fires? All of the attorneys in the room were concerned about this problem, and a discussion about a remedy (consensus was state law will have to be changed) ensued. We had one Power Point slide up, with the name and citation of the case. The discussion was lively and to a bunch of lawyers, also fairly interesting.
Why is Power Point involved in our seminars? Before Power Point, there were slide projectors like the one pictured above. Small slides with pictures from cameras were put into projectors for group viewing on a portable screen. A few teachers used them, but mostly they were individual users- lots of jokes back in the day of going to someone’s house to see the slide show of their vacation. It was a simpler time! And Baby Boomers will remember View Master toys, which allowed you to have your own personal slide shows. High tech for the 1960’s. So Power Point isn’t really that different- it is a way to present slides that you create using a computer. As a college teacher, I learned to use the software and included it in my classes to a certain extent for most of the time I taught, but with a lot of enhancements.
While it can be a good instructional tool, using Power Point also has some significant drawbacks. Chief among them is inducing mind numbing boredom in the class or audience viewing the slides. This of course depends on many things- the material being presented, the person preparing the slides, the speaker, the length of the presentation, and the time of day.
So our one slide in the beginning of the seminar was fine, but then an additional speaker was Zoomed into the meeting with more slides. A lot more slides. Slides that were too long, repetitive, and oh so dull. Some of them were read to us. I looked around and started to see other attendees shared my thoughts. Cell phones were out, and a few people nodded off. Others were on their laptops, happily billing clients for the work they were doing. This session did, however, resurrect itself a bit with some audience discussion. But then the final speakers came forth for the second hour with more slides. And a new topic- settling an estate with insufficient assets. Such fun.
In defense of the speakers, they aren’t educators and don’t use Power Point regularly. They are talking about inherently arcane topics, and they know their fellow attorneys are used to this type of content. But they also knew they were speaking right after lunch, so strike one. They have attended their share of seminars, so they have probably been bored to death in the past and should know better, so strike two. And the bar association never asks for evaluations of these presentations, which would improve them, so strike three. So on it goes, year after year.
Luckily, day two went a lot better, with a larger audience and different topic. It was about the Lawyers Assistant Project, which confidentially assists members of the legal profession with substance abuse problems. Several things made this two hour seminar go much faster. First, there were speakers who shared their personal stories of substance abuse. These brave lawyers shed light on a significant problem in the profession, and their personal journeys to sobriety. They also spoke frankly about how a competitive, high stress profession like the law can create the “perfect storm” of using alcohol and drugs to excess.
Were there Power Point slides? Yes, but they were kept to a minimum and enhanced what the speakers were saying, rather than being read to the group. And they included some embedded videos, graphics and photos. Kudos to those presenters.
And so my journey to completing my hours by the end of December is underway. I think I’ll do the rest of the time based on the titles of the presentations. I found two seminars that might work- Messy and Ugly Issues in Employment Law, and Hot Issues in Foreclosure Compliance. Wish me luck!