A few months ago, I told a colleague in chambers that I would be attending a weekend conference about financial literacy offered by the Rotman School of Management Executive Programs. The program taught professionals from all backgrounds about the basics in reading financial statements and understanding how numbers drive strategic decisions in a company. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation with my colleague:
Colleague: Is it a CPD?
Me: Kind of. Not really. It’s just a weekend course and they give you a certificate afterwards.
Colleague: Does it count for CPD hours?
Me: Don’t know. I don’t care to check.
Colleague: Is it just for lawyers?
Me: No. It’s for all types of professionals.
Colleague: How much is it?
Me: Few thousand…
Colleague: ...why are you paying to go to a non-legal CPD on a weekend?!
For the most part, lawyers tend to view CPDs with a sort of love-hate relationship. On the positive side, CPDs enable lawyers to network, catch up with colleagues, and get a pulse on a particular trend in law. However, given our busy schedules, the idea of having to shell out a few hundred dollars to sit through a full-day conference can be an exhausting commitment. Especially if you’re deeply entrenched in a particular practice area, some of the discussions might be too cursory for your time. It’s no surprise then that the thought of paying to get up at 7:00 a.m. on a weekend just to sit in a classroom with strangers to learn about numbers and math would probably be one of the least attractive propositions a lawyer can hear.
That said, non-legal CPDs are in no way a waste of time and money. In contrast, they offer an important, if not vital, supplement to our continuing legal education. This is especially so if you are a sole practitioner or working in a small-firm setting.
Here are my top 5 reasons to sign up to a non-legal CPD:
1. Constant Learning
The classification of the ‘practice’ of law is both expansive and limiting. Lawyers understand the impossibility of knowing everything in law. Even within the most niche disciples, (equine litigation comes to mind), lawyers rely on one another’s experiences, usually in a CPD setting, to stay relevant. On the other hand, given that the practice of law is so broad, why would we want to sit through a non-lawyer event to learn about something that isn’t specific to our legal practice? If it’s not directly beneficial to our legal profile, there’s a chance that it won’t be on our radar. One of the major reasons why lawyers opt for webcasts is because of the heavy time commitment of attending CPDs in person. The thought of attending a peripherally engaging topic would seem ludicrous.
Yet as a sole practitioner, I am acutely aware that all aspects of my life are part of my brand and business identity. To that end, everything I do outside of law should have some purpose in serving to develop my practice. Learning a new language can be as useful for planning my next trip as it is for laying the groundwork for communicating with a new demographic of clients. Marketing techniques, web design, and public speaking are all interesting topics but have also laid the foundation for my success when speaking with service providers to ensure my business objectives are properly matched.
2. Overcoming Weaknesses
Lawyers are notoriously bad at math. In my case, that can’t be truer. Yet I realize that fear and avoidance won’t make me any better of a lawyer, no matter how much I supplement my flaws with legal skills. Rotman’s Financial Literacy Program gave me an opportunity to strengthen a weakness in a setting with others that were on equal footing. Apart from confidence building, I gained a certification that helped propel my professional image (at least on LinkedIn).
Non-legal CPDs are invaluable in this capacity since they provide a safe forum to learn or catch up with a missing piece of knowledge. Not a techy? Try a weekend course on using your computer more efficiently. Bad at Excel? Spend a few hours with other professionals who are brave enough to overcome their spreadsheet woes.
One of the most important functions that a solo or boutique practitioner needs to be comfortable with is networking. The advantages are obvious when attending CPDs: growing your brain trust, developing client leads, and adding to your roster of drinking buddies. Yet all the excitement of seeing law school friends and trading war stories soon fades when your circle reaches a sort of ‘maximum capacity’ and you end up seeing the same group of attendees event after event. It’s not surprising then that many lawyers opt to webcast. On a tangential note, if your only concern is to add to your client base, I am almost 100% certain you’ve experienced how painful it is to make small talk with strangers at events dedicated to business development. While it’s a necessary evil, these often tend to be trite.
Non-legal CPDs offer a change of pace to these monotonous ails of networking. In my particular case, the Financial Literacy Program’s cohort had doctors, lawyers, HR professionals, and salespeople with the common goal of improving their understanding of financial, numerical, and mathematical concepts. Since I was with a diverse group all committed to learn a new skillset, there was an immediate drive to learn more about one another’s businesses while engaging in the course material.
4. Excuse to Travel
After having done the Financial Literacy Program, I did some further research on what other business schools around North America were offering as executive classes. Harvard’s Business School offered mini weekend courses on an array of topics from marketing to industry-specific topics on mining and financial markets. Quite often I have a hard time justifying a vacation (perhaps I’m odd like that) so the prospect of taking a trip to a new city to learn a new subject and connect with other business leaders seems like a promising venture. At the very least I can use it as a tax write off.
5. Setting Up for Future Prospects
In today’s business climate, more professionals are pivoting between roles. It’s not uncommon to hear about a doctor who is retiring from medicine to start up a restaurant or a lawyer who has decided to transition into in-house roles that involve some sort of business development responsibilities.
Non-legal CPDs help you gain necessary skills for a new practice area or even a totally different career path. Oftentimes, courses involving skill sets in financial literacy, specific computer program competency, and leadership management, are prerequisites for new positions on boards and longer commitment academics (MBAs). By enrolling in these courses earlier, you’re taking a proactive approach to exploring career opportunities and preparing for a potential pivot.
About the author
Chris Chu, Lead Counsel at Legacy Law makes the pitch for non-legal CPDs.