For the past four weeks, I’ve been dealing with New Jersey’s idosyncratic form of continuing legal education. It’s definitely “legal,” and it’s probably “education,” but “continuing” I’m not as sure about. Many states make you keep coming back to the well a little every year but sweeten the experience by giving you a broad choice of accredited programs. (Much the same philosophy applies to pro bono requirements: States expect you to do it but let you choose freely how and for whom.)
New Jersey, on the other hand, front-loads the entire program. You have to take five six-hour classes in your first year. Not five classes you-choose-which-five. No, five classes they-choose-which-five, and you’re warned at the start not to leave your seat. It’s two classes a year for the second and third years, and then that’s it. Finito. No more, ever again. Think of us fondly now and then, maybe send a card at the holidays?
Thus, for the last month, I’ve been spending two nights a week sitting in lectures and many of the remaining nights working on the homework exercises. It really mucks up one’s routine to have something like this dropped in. Between my day job, my scholarship, planning a wedding, and running the errands my medical-student intended’s school doesn’t give her the time to run, I had a fairly full life before ICLE came along. Now, my evenings start three hours later — or more, if you figure in the horrible traffic jam leaving the parking lot.
I recognize that I have little right to complain. Certainly, the work involved is negligible compared with the feats of memorization expected of my fiancee and her fellow medical initiates. Any complaints I might have about the teaching style or subject matter are also piddling when compared with the stories I hear from anyone who’s ever been to medical school. And as for the loss of time, well, at least I’m not at a major law firm. If I were, I’d be heading back to the office after the CLE classes, to make up the work I’d missed by having to be in them in the first place.
Yes, compared with those around me in these classes, I count myself lucky. There’s a 9:13 train from Newark back into New York City, and a little before 9:00 the crowd starts getting restless. As the lecturer rolls on, I can see the growing look of despearation in dozens of pairs of eyes. If he doesn’t wrap this up soon, that’s another twenty minutes gone before the next one.
Have I learned much? It varies. The accounting component of the professional responsibility lecture was essential. The basics of managing an attorney trust account aren’t difficult, but botching them means disbarment. Yeah. Good to know. Besides, accounting is fun. For similar reasons, I actually kind of liked the real estate closing class. A closing is a thing of beauty, like an astral conjunction—for one perfect instant, dozens of moving parts are lined up perfectly. It helped that the lecturer told some fine stories, including one gruesome little tale that serves as a reminder of why you should never ever ever let sellers stay over in the place after the closing.
Other classes, though, not so much. The professional responsibility classes were more exhortation than instruction; pretty much any wills and estates lecturer was going to suffer by comparison with the curmudgeonly genius who taught my trusts and estates class in law school. Also, the registration fee for the classes included a set of reference volumes that include quite a lot of specific information, and the instruction is just a little bit redundant with the volumes.
(The “books,” I should not, are some of the cheapest objects ever to bear that name. They’re “bound” in a rough, mottled grey paper, only slighly thicker than the paper on which the contents are printed. I have to appreciate the desire to keep the costs down, but at the same time, the results are hide-this-from-your-clients ugly.)
In any event, this is all just a digressive explanation of why I’ve been a bit behind the eight-ball for the last month. Things should clear up after this week. If I owe you a reply, or thoughts on something, or another form of attention, it might be best to drop me a line to refresh your claim.