General counsel invest their department’s money and time each year in professional development courses (See my post of May 25, 2008: CLE with 30 references.). Some of that expense must be borne because of state law requirements imposed on lawyers admitted to the bar of that state to keep up to date. Other development efforts, such as attending conferences, online learning, and presentations from law firms, are discretionary, but for both mandated and optional education, there should be some expectation of a return on investment.
Benchmarks are non-existent about what US legal departments put out for continuing legal education. It is possible that $4,000 per year per lawyer is a plausible estimate. That figure comes from $2,000 for one conference plus associated travel and lodging costs and eight hours of a lawyer’s time at $250 an hour fully loaded. Not that internal costs of a lawyer fall into the same category as checks written to a conference organizer, but for a company it comes down to virtually the same dollars.
One way to calculate the ROI of CLE would be to gather from a group of legal departments their spend per lawyer on CLE and a few other metrics, such as lawyers per billion of revenue, outside counsel spend as a percentage of revenue, and total legal spend as a percentage of revenue. If amounts invested for professional improvement per lawyer correlated to any of those outcome metrics, you could argue with more specificity that CLE activities translate into greater productivity, capability, or reduced costs. For example, you might find that the more you spend per lawyer on training, the fewer lawyers are needed per billion of revenue.