Jared Hawk: Hi, this is Jared Hawk with CLEJournel.com and CLEList.com, thanks for joining us on our podcast. Today we’re going to talk about the shift from in person learning and training in the CLE realm to online training and what precipitated that shift. One of the earlier adopters of online live MCLE training is Lorman Education Services. This is a company and team that’s been in business for over 28 years, and have pioneered a lot in the live seminar market, recently making a shift to go online and discontinue their in-person, live events.
Joining me today is Ben Halverson, general manager. I appreciate the time that you’re giving to talk to me today.
Ben: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
Jared: This shift to offering live events online exclusively was made around the beginning of this year, 2015. What started this shift?
Ben: First, I want to clarify what we’re actually doing - we didn’t per se quit the live seminar business, as many people probably think. We’ve actually just stopped scheduling our live seminars and put a lot more focus into exactly what you’ve stated: the shift in CLE where it’s primarily digital.
Our goal is to provide what everybody in the CLE world has told us they want - they want faster, better training and they need it digitally and online.
Jared: That make sense because we’re seeing this in a lot of other industries as well. It seems to me that in live events, except social mixers, that attendance has been shrinking over the years. Have you seen this happen with the events that you used to schedule regularly before this shift? Were you seeing less people in the room?
Ben: Yes, as far as the whole attendance shift we actually just saw more people going online and digitally like we’ve talked about, with live events we didn’t necessarily see a complete decline attendance. Online just had more people shifting into it. The actual decline if you will is more along the lines of people not wanting to commit to a full day - we were getting a lot of questions like, “Can we do just a half day?” or “Can we come in for the morning, or just go the afternoon?” and so on. It’s not possible to design different the types of deliverables that people are asking for just because their schedules just won’t allow for it.
Jared: It sounds like that’s why you were very clear to say at the beginning that you are just not scheduling them as regularly, but if you see a need and you have a strong enough demand you’d be able to jump back into it.
Ben: Absolutely, we’ve had several questions since the day that we said that we would hold off on scheduling. To put more live seminars out there on certain topics is still something that we’ll consider. It’s still something that we are heavily weighing as far as meetings and discussions.
Right now the driving need is more digital, more online delivery and more convenience.
Jared: That makes sense; I’ve been involved in the continuing legal education world for a few years now. I’ve worked with getting courses approved through the Idaho state bar, for example. It seems like this method of doing a shorter live online version is going to simplify the accreditation with the state bars, simplify that process. Have you seen a difference in that did that go into the decision-making?
Ben: You know, we did see some of that, but it didn’t really weigh into the decision making. Just like you, we’ve gone to several industry events and heard that people want information faster. Probably in today’s world that doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary. When people are getting bored with 30-minute YouTube clips, we know that they hate our live seminars; it’s [laughing] not the next thing they’re looking for.
Jared: One thing as well that I’ve noticed is that when you go to an all-day event, the cost per credit compared to one of your online events is higher. I understand that you have a convenience factor that rolls into that. You listen from your office; you can pick the day a lot easier. Especially if you do different topics on different months and then you come back to those same topics. What are other benefits that you see that make up for that higher cost per credit, or have you done anything at Lorman to mitigate that?
Ben: The way that we’ve become more attractive in that realm is we give people a better per credit hour, the best bang for their dollar, if you will. Now you can get unlimited training for that “x” amount of dollars throughout the year. We’re fully aware of what people need for accreditation and our goal is to provide as much as we possibly can, to give them to give them the efficiency with their dollar, but more importantly more efficiency with their time and their schedule.
Jared: They can pay a set fee and then attend, when you say unlimited, they can attend then unlimited amounts of the online training?
Ben: Correct. 24/7 you can access our training suite on demand or you can go to the live events whenever you feel like it. There is also a suite of other features that come with it but for the most part from the credit and the CLE perspective that’s where you’re going to get most value.
Jared: We’ve seen this shift in that a lot of companies across the board from stand-alone items to pay as you go for unlimited access. I think especially the younger generation of the up and coming attorneys, what we will call the “High Bar Number” members that have the most amount of digits, the young ones. They’re getting used to the idea of paying an annual fee or a monthly fee and then being able to access the service as they like.
I do think that is a great selling point for you. I’m not going to be surprised if we see that model spread to other education providers and topics and companies.
Now, I have to ask: a lot of the in-person seminars drew local talent and with Lorman, you used local presenters that talked about local issues, is that fair to say?
Ben: That’s correct, yes.
Jared: Okay, what do you do there now when you have a national seminar? Do you do anything that addresses the state issues or what’s your focus with the national seminar, webinar topics?
Ben: Sure, a lot of the national topics that we deal with especially in 90 minutes is just going to cover your national level, legalities or laws or agenda items. We do offer some intermissions to be valuable on the state level.
You wouldn’t be surprised to find that some of 90 minute live webinars would carry two to three faculty onboard, from the local level. To cover some of the broad areas from the regions, so our attendees can get that local information.
We’re not wasting a lot of the time during the 90 minutes for people that, for example, are on the East coast listening to a West coast pitch as far as the agenda items. For the most part try to cover as much as we can on the national level and we do touch on the state level within our 90 minutes. We still do an a la carte, if you will of state specific live webinars and they’re still 90 minutes or they’re 60 minutes depending on the topic.
We do a fantastic job from teaching the national level, and still cover as much as we possibly can on the local level, including any questions that they have on the local level, from local attendees.
Jared: Are attendees able to contact the presenters to clarify, for example, a local state issue after the event.
Ben: Absolutely. We push to answer more and more questions - that’s what we want them to do. We want our faculty to get good questions from our attendees. To be able to be the expert, to be able to provide the best information for our attendees and it’s a good for us to have our attendees have a good relationship with our faculty.
Jared: This next question might sound a little bit blunt by asking a little bit about behind the scenes. In live events, when you have presenters in front of you, there is no way to hide from a difficult question, a controversial question or potentially even a question that the presenter is not aware of, maybe a very advanced specific question. How does the Q&A process work during the live 90 minutes? How do you vet or decide which questions to answer?
Ben: Sure, we don’t vet questions - we “Live and die by the live,” - we love that and our attendees love that. I think we find a lot of attendees that come to the event and try to get the most information for themselves, so regardless of if we vetted the information ahead of time or even vetted it right before the moment they’re going to ask it, they’re still going to ask something that we call “Stump the Presenter.”
The reason we want them to do that is because our faculty actually request that we do that. They like to have the hard challenging questions, and the attendees want to ask the hard, challenging questions - and the beauty of live is that it’s live. It’s where you get to see mistakes, it’s not canned, not our faculty simply selling a service.
Our attendees do feel like “I just showed up and paid good money to listen to somebody talk just themselves.” That’s not our intent, not what our company is all about, nor is what our faculty doing for themselves. This is purely education and that’s what the attendees get, so live is for us the best way. It provides a real moment education at that point.
Jared: That would build credibility in my eyes - for an expert to say that is very advanced, let me research that, or turn the question over to another panel member.
Ben: Our faculty is just fully on board with the fact that they know that they’re going to get hard questions and they like that. Our attendees know that they can ask hard questions. If they knew that they were coming in and having only the chance to just listen to an expert who didn’t give any information that was pertinent to them, they probably would come in with the fear of potentially not getting any information that they expected. If they have some of the information they expected at the end, that’s what the Q&A is for is to be able to ask for more information and for more clarifying. Our faculty is not afraid to say that they are not familiar with the question or they may not know the answer and then to take the question off-line to continue the discussion. That’s where the relationship extends beyond 90 minutes for us and for our faculty for that matter. We don’t want the education to stop after 90 minutes. You just didn’t buy something from us and it ends at that moment. It’s something that we want to continue. You get more from 90 minutes, well after the 90 minutes done.
Jared: As far as custom training, do you offer any kind of onsite training that a large firm could request? Are you finding that again most people just want the flexibility of “I want it when I want it or where I want it?”
Ben: That’s the last piece of some of the services we provide. We do a lot of the onsite training and we do a lot of corporate onsite training. It allows the attendees to guide that process versus having to commit to what our process has guided them. Again, this is more the corporate training for us allows our customers to come to us and say “I want two hours of this. The topic has to be driven to this, the agenda I’m looking for this type of expert in this field.” That allows us to build a program based on what they want.
Jared: I appreciate your time today and look forward to seeing what Lorman does next.
Ben: Thanks again for having me, this is very helpful for me as well, I appreciate this.
Jared: Thank you, that was Ben Halverson, general manager of Lorman Education Services, and you can check them out on the web at Lorman.com.