Taking a rough and conservative estimate of 3 free CLE programs per week by large firms, then multiplying that by the 100 largest firms in the country, you get (3 x 52 x 100 =) 15,600 hours of free CLE per year. Next we’ll estimate that on average 35 lawyers attend each of these. This may seem high to some, but I know of telephone web seminars that easily draw 200 attendees. So now we have (35 x 15,600 =) 546,000 hours of CLE being given away each year by these large firms.

546,000 might seem like a lot, because it is. But consider that the rest of the AmLaw 250 and beyond and even legal market vendors give away CLE everyday, then 546,000 is not such a big number. But let’s work from it.

For a Bar association CLE program with $30 as the typical baseline of a per hour CLE price, this number would equate to ($30 x 546,000 =) $16,380,000 in annual CLE revenue. I’m guessing I just got the attention of any CLE Directors reading this. I know when I was the CLE Director for the Utah State Bar, this number would have lead to a cold sweat.

On Friday, I had the pleasure of sharing a beer and conversation with the Executive Director of the South Carolina Bar. Bob Wells is a gentleman and an enjoyable human in general. On this topic, he is (as usual) ahead of the game. His Bar is pushing for a larger facility to house CLE programs. He rightfully is questioning this path. He knows in the not-too-distant future his members will be getting CLE for free online. And why wouldn’t they? In addition to the obvious cost savings, Bob knows online CLE gives his lawyers the opportunity to take the subject matter they want, when they want it.

After the second beer, we concluded that CLE content will likely follow the Google model. Give it away and make money on ads and partnerships.

In the end, it’s really a question of who will figure this out first. Large law firms are already there, with them being the content provider and the advertiser. CLE providers would be smart to start looking down this path now instead of waiting for others to get in front of them.