I’m a member of ACLEA, the Association for Continuing Legal Education. A bar association member was organizing a CLE conference for lawyers aboard a Caribbean cruise. She posted a listserv question to the group regarding how many speakers to have, how much to pay them, etc. She was seeking input from others who had developed similar programs. 

I thought it might be helpful to offer the perspective of a regular CLE speaker. Here was my response:

By way of brief background, I’ve presented 150-200 CLE-approved programs across North America, mostly in the Marketing and Ethics areas, on land and sea — and once during an active Florida hurricane. As some of you know, I’m in the category of “Professional Speaker,” i.e. I do this to feed my family, not my ego. 😉Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 2.10.14 PM

Many of CLE’s “usual suspects” know each other, because we speak at the same conferences or law firm retreats. So this response is my view of “our” collective thinking:

We do expect to get paid for our presentations, although when speaking to bar associations or other non-profits, we offer significant discounts, both because (1) we understand that you have smaller budgets (larger law firms can easily drop $10-15,000 plus travel to a single presenter), and (2) we respect the valuable work you do for the profession.

You asked whether these programs tend to have more than one presenter. Most of us do not mind presenting a second program at no, or limited, extra charge. If we’re traveling somewhere to speak, the incremental additional effort involved in presenting 1-2 more hours is relatively minor, and we know it can help your budget if you can avoid paying for a second speaker. Most of us would happy to offer that if requested as long as we don’t risk missing our flight or need to stay over another night. (FYI, if you have a speaker with a delayed flight or a last-minute cancelation, find any professional speaker on your program. Most of us could easily fill in with a seamless presentation with just a few minutes’ notice.)

The one exception to insisting on an honorarium is when the program is in such a great location that it’s worth doing for travel expenses. That is, some of us enjoy international travel, beautiful (Alaska) or exotic (Cuba) locations, or as here, a “free” cruise. Many of us would present some programs on a cruise simply for travel expenses; it’s like getting someone else to pay for a mini vacation. But don’t expect most of us to do it without travel reimbursement; if we’re paying our own way, we’d rather take a real vacation, not attend a legal conference…Ross Fishman Speaking to Law Students at Chicago-Kent Law School

Professional speakers travel so much that it’s just part of the job, not a perk. It’s like an extra-long commute — but with the added risk of getting dragged unceremoniously off of a United plane. The travel is only special if the destination is worth it. For example, I’ll be speaking this month in Des Moines, Indianapolis, Washington DC, Chicago (3x), and Santiago, Chile. I’m speaking in Santiago for just hotel and travel costs because I’ve always wanted to visit Chile. The host organization doesn’t pay speakers for their regular monthly programs, but for the annual conference where attendees will be flying in from all over the world, they determined that ~$2500 in expenses was a small price to pay to guarantee a higher-quality program with a professional speaker.

The one exception is for professional presenters who offer other services beyond speaking. For example, in addition to the CLE-type speaking, I also offer branding and website services. So I occasionally can be persuaded to speak for free or at a reduced cost if the audience is proven to be one that regularly purchases those types of services.

Finally, in my experience, speakers who get paid hold themselves to higher presentation standards. I apologize if this sounds self-serving, but paid professional speakers spend much more time developing, refining, and rehearsing the presentation than earnest volunteers. We’ve probably done that same basic speech 5-50 times before, so we know it works. Unlike practicing lawyers, we don’t need to give a speech to build our resumes or get CLE credit.

I did a lot of speaking when I was a practicing lawyer and in-house marketer. I usually spent a couple hours developing each program, and they always received good reviews. But when I “turned pro” as a speaker, I learned that law firms and conference organizers aren’t paying for good; they’re paying for great. They seek proven consistency and peace of mind. They’re paying for a presentation that motivates people to come back the next year. And that’s not the mindset of most practicing lawyers who occasionally speak. They’re often quite good. But in my experience they’re rarely the presentations that people are still talking about a week later.


Looking for a speaker for your upcoming retreat, CLE, or marketing training? Give Ross a call at 847.432.3546 or ross@fishmanmarketing.com. 

Ross Fishman Speaker intro