Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2007

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MICPEL Gears Up for Web-Based CLE

Distance learning and web-based CLE will soon be available to Maryland lawyers as MICPEL goes high-tech. Advancing MICPEL's delivery of CLE through web-based technology is one of MSBA President Edward J. Gilliss' top priorities this year. Gilliss, who wants to "broaden CLE opportunities for all Maryland lawyers and help MSBA's multi-tasking members use their time more efficiently while bettering their legal skills," is well on the way to achieving this goal as MICPEL gears-up for web-based CLE.

"Assisting both MICPEL and the MSBA to embrace available technologies to better the delivery of important services to Maryland's lawyers is a mission whose time is right," declares Gilliss. "Delivering continuing legal education to our membership is one of the core purposes of a bar association. Webcasts and podcasts ensure that MICPEL reaches more lawyers than might otherwise be reached. The MSBA will benefit from the same technologies, and we will be better able to reach members of our Committees and Sections."

Last fall, Gilliss created a Special MSBA/MICPEL Task Force (MMTF) and asked it to explore the high-tech CLE frontier, including "some kind of web-based methodology, so lawyers from distant parts of the state could meet, almost in a live format." For the last four months, MMTF – led by Michael D. Oliver – has examined and evaluated various methods of technology and even conducted a "test run." Last month, it presented a series of recommendations to MSBA's Board of Governors (BOG) advocating webinars and podcasting for MICPEL's CLE programs.

MMTF initiated this probe with the clear understanding that advanced technology, as a means of CLE delivery, is a supplement to MICPEL's already outstanding menu of live CLE programming. This innovation is seen as a complement to enhance MICPEL's array of effective face-to-face interactive sessions which are very popular with Maryland's lawyers. "The idea here is that people unable to travel to the live program's location can still participate in it through technology," explains Oliver.

Cost to practitioners and "ease of use" were top concerns as MMTF conducted its analysis. "We are seeking something that is technology-neutral and accessible," Oliver continues. "We do not want practitioners to have to buy special software for this.

"We are looking at software that is generally available inside a browser; something already in a lawyer's system. We did not want it to be limited to certain users. Any lawyer with any type of computer that connects to the Internet should be able to use it." In this way, the technology will be cost-effective to lawyers.

"We talked a lot about lawyers not having to be a ‘techie' or computer person," he adds. "A lawyer should be able to go into a website, click on a link, pay the applicable fee, then take the course. There should not be a requirement that a lawyer must buy any software or pay any additional fees for the connection. The software should be ‘drop-dead' easy-to-use and as ‘unfrustrating' as possible."

The task force took its "technology charge" to heart. "We held all of our meetings by teleconferencing," reports Oliver. "We never met in person." MMTF began its probe by examining "what is currently available in terms of technology modes of delivery."

"Then, we decided to convert one of MICPEL's existing courses, an E-Discovery session, into an online presentation to see what would happen and how difficult it would be," explains Oliver. "We gave it to Carroll County Community College, who took the video and materials and converted them into a ‘Blackboard course' (Blackboard is the most often-used software in colleges and law schools for their courses).

The Task Force also considered a live webcam multi-person machine room setup, Podcasts, DVDs, CD-ROMs, webinars and vendors that go to the program site and videotape the presentation then upload the video onto the web for screening. Its final report, including a series of recommendations, was approved by the BOG on February 20. Oliver outlines MMTF's top four proposals:

1. "MICPEL should start providing webinars as soon as possible. This is where each participant sits in his or her office or in a conference room with a projector, as does the presenter, and there is no physical meeting. It is just the moderator and the participants joining into the session – the moderator uses a PowerPoint slide-presentation over the computer. We recommend that MICPEL immediately start providing webinars to serve as a matter of course on preferably Maryland-specific topics."

2. "The audio portion of all live MICPEL seminars should be put into podcast format as quickly as possible and should be podcast so that someone can quickly go in and download it onto their MP3 player and listen to it in their car or burn it onto to a CD-ROM."

3. "All live MICPEL seminars should also be presented as webinars and actually connected to the Internet so that people who are not able to be physically there for the program can participate via the web or via phone conference."

4. "MICPEL should look into using a provider to take the already existing course content and create online courses, post them online and basically handle everything; in other words, outsource it."

MMTF hopes and expects that MSBA will assist MICPEL with the first two recommendations. Oliver reports that the Association's Law Office Management Department is already doing some podcasting and that, in general, the "MSBA tech staff knows how to do all of these things and is great."

"Mike Oliver and the Taskforce he has chaired should be commended for the work they have done," Gilliss remarks, "and for the ‘push' they have given to move MICPEL and the MSBA forward with Internet-based delivery of information."

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: March 2007