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A New Stage for CLE

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For Chris Carlson, it seemed that CLEs didn’t have to be as static and stiff as many of the ones he’d attended had been. Theaters across the Twin Cities agreed.

“I always say in these courses that art has a greater ability to put us in the shoes of other people than the law has. What we’re able to do with art is get people to feel differently and have a better chance of getting them to think and behave differently,” Carlson said. “At the core of, for example, elimination of bias CLEs is changing someone’s understanding and, at the heart of it, how they see things. The more we can get people to feel what it might be like to treat someone differently, or to be treated differently, the more effective we can be at changing behavior.”
Lauren Anderson, education co-manager for the Guthrie, estimates the theater arranges around three in-person CLEs per year. (Due to COVID-19, there were no CLEs last year.) “We believe that, in learning, the more connected you are to the material, the more it will inspire,” she said. “By making it more participatory, we’re hoping to engage the room into the work. You’re not just sitting back and watching something. You’re involved in it.” In conjunction with the Guthrie’s staging of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a play in which the homely titular character tells a handsome, tongue-tied friend what to say in order to woo the woman they both love, the Guthrie presented an ethics CLE focused on the ethical ambiguities inherent in legal representation around speaking for someone else. arranges around three in-person CLEs per year. (Due to COVID-19, there were no CLEs last year.) “We believe that, in learning, the more connected you are to the material, the more it will inspire,” she said. “By making it more participatory, we’re hoping to engage the room into the work. You’re not just sitting back and watching something. You’re involved in it.” In conjunction with the Guthrie’s staging of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a play in which the homely titular character tells a handsome, tongue-tied friend what to say in order to woo the woman they both love, the Guthrie presented an ethics CLE focused on the ethical ambiguities inherent in legal representation around speaking for someone else.

To coincide with Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, a play about a townthat has to confront the fact that its tourist-attraction hot spring has become dangerously contaminated, the CLE involved the creation of an imaginary law firm. Participants were asked to set guiding principles for the kinds of cases they handle. They then watched a scene from the play and had to reach a decision to decide whether to take the case.

“The use of storytelling is how we have continued to evolve. It’s how we develop empathy and learn to connect with one another,” Anderson said. “With the CLEs, it’s a less-clinical approach. Examining these scenes and the interplay between the characters helps create an element of humanity and apply perspective that helps expand ideas. The purpose is not to make people adopt a specific point of view. It’s more letting the audience member see the story, take it in and work with his or her own judgment. I think that’s a really beautiful way to learn about one another.” Carlson estimates that over the course of his career, he’s arranged almost 70 CLEs incorporating live theater.

“If we can make participants feel something, if we can make them invoke that empathetic imagination, that’s huge. That’s huge for the dignity of the profession, and it’s huge for the artists, too,” Carlson said. “Lawyers, at the end of the day, are human, and they can have their imaginations piqued and tapped into. When you’re at one of these CLEs, you don’t see people reading newspapers or working on their phones or walking out nearly as much as you see in the average CLE.”

Will Ashenmacher is a licensed attorney, former journalist, and communications
manager in the Minneapolis office of Ballard Spahr.
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