Lawyers Mutual is excited to partner with ReelTime Creative Learning Experiences® to bring you this year’s seminar series, “The Accidental Lawyer: Terms of Engagement.” This new, live interactive workshop is designed to help lawyers be more alert to the vulnerabilities they may face in various non-office settings and to equip them with the best practices for defining their roles up front and setting clear boundaries with the person seeking advice. We had a chance to talk with ReelTime Creative Learning Experiences® founders Chris Osborn and Michael Kahn about ReelTime and the upcoming program.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Chris: I was an associate and then a shareholder with Horack Talley in Charlotte for about 11 years, and practiced in the areas of construction and real property disputes, employment litigation, and general business and tort litigation. Somewhere along the way, through our work at ReelTime, I discovered my love for teaching. So in 2012, I left practice to become an Assistant Professor at the Charlotte School of Law, where I taught Contracts, CivPro, and “Interviewing, Client Counseling, and Negotiations.” When I left the school in 2015, I launched my own law firm, called Osborn Conflict Resolution. After about a year as a solo practitioner, I was fortunate to have a couple of associates join me, and in addition to my work as a Superior Court Mediator, we handle a wide variety of litigation matters, including business breakups, construction and employment law disputes, and will caveats. We are all three trained in collaborative law, and are really having a lot of fun both applying that model in family law cases (where this particular form of dispute resolution got started) and helping adapt it to other areas of the law that have similar relational dynamics in play alongside the legal issues.
Michael: I am what I like to call a "recovering lawyer.” I practiced for 6 years with the New Jersey Attorney General's office, before deciding to change careers and go back to grad school. I became a Licensed Professional Counselor in in North Carolina in 1996, and my therapy practice in Charlotte focused on helping clients deal with anxiety, depression, grief/loss, career satisfaction, and men's issues. As you can imagine, I saw a good number of lawyers dealing with those kinds of issues over the years, and I have always felt an affinity for the legal profession thanks to my time in practice. In addition to my work with ReelTime, I co-facilitate grief groups for lawyers in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC, where I relocated a few years ago. I also present training seminars and workshops on ethics, grief, wellness, diversity and inclusion and other topics throughout the U.S. and abroad for lawyers, mental health professionals and others, including for the U.S. military in Germany and Japan. In addition, I’m a professional coach and provide assistance with career issues, stress management, retirement, and coping with change.
Q: How did you two come together to form ReelTime CLE?
Michael: We served together on what was formerly called the Lawyer Support Committee for the Mecklenburg County Bar Association (and later renamed the LawyerLife Professionalism and Culture Committee). The Committee was comprised of lawyers and mental health professionals, and was charged with providing articles and CLE programs to help lawyers think proactively about mental health and wellness. Chris found out that I had led some men’s groups using movies as a means of opening up discussion, and since he had experienced that kind of approach positively, as well, he asked me about presenting a program for lawyers on stress management using Hollywood films.
Chris: And Michael was just crazy enough to agree to give it a shot and then even crazier to let me help. The MCB CLE coordinator, Lisa Armanini, was eager to find different ways to provide the relatively new mental health/substance abuse credit, so she was super-supportive. We presented our first workshop for MCB in 2007, and folks responded really positively, so we kept on presenting, and realized that we worked really well together. Eventually, she encouraged us to “take the show on the road,” and here we are now, over 10 years later. I also want to add that we have expanded beyond the legal world and are offering our programs to corporations and other professions because the issues we discuss in our workshops are universal.
Q: What sets your programs apart from traditional CLE programs?
Michael: We leverage both our love of good movies and our unique backgrounds (in mental health and education) to present programs that engage attendees and treat them as active participants in the learning process. Our basic hope is to provide an enjoyable learning experience, even when addressing such dreaded topics as ethics, diversity and inclusion, or mental health & substance abuse. We refuse to concede that any topic has to be mind-numbingly boring.
Chris: Or that any topic is too “heavy,” or “awkward” to address. As one brief example, we recently were asked to develop a program to address workplace sexual misconduct and harassment, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo movement. That’s definitely one that organizations of all sizes are feeling a need to address, but probably feeling uncomfortable about, as well. And for something like that, we don’t think you can bring about real change by just talking at people, reminding them of the importance of following the law, and warning them about lurking disaster. There are some really tricky challenges to work through in this arena, and we find that the more that people can participate in the process of understanding those challenges from all sides, and deciding what to do, the more motivated they typically will be to follow through with the hard work of change, when necessary.
Michael: And we think that there is a place for some humor in addressing these topics. Never to make fun of anybody, or to the point where we are not taking an issue seriously. But sometimes laughter can help break the tension of a difficult subject, and even open the door to a more meaningful discussion that can really get somewhere.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about developing your programs?
Michael: I think we both enjoy the challenge of creating a stimulating, enjoyable, and practically beneficial program. Our goal is to always engage the lawyer who comes because he or she needs the hours, but may be planning to catch up on legal work and only half-pay attention.
Chris: Shh, you’re not supposed to tell people that happens! You never know who might be reading this.
Michael: Oh, right! Well, hypothetically speaking, we sort of take that on as a challenge. And it‘s very rewarding to see folks who start with their laptops open--
Chris: So they can take really good notes, I am sure!
Michael: Oh, right! And by the end of the program, they are listening and maybe even offering up a comment or two. Much of the best learning truly happens when lawyers of different ages, genders, level of experience, or practice settings share their challenges, and the various ways they have overcome them.
Chris: We love seeing those “light bulbs” go off when a participant realizes he or she is not the only one facing a given challenge, and that there are indeed ways of meeting it they may not have heard of yet, or hadn’t believed were possible.
Q: We are so excited about the upcoming seminars! Can you tell attendees a little about what they can expect from “The Accidental Lawyer-The Rules of Engagement”?
Chris: This was a fun one to make, and we hope it’s fun to watch! We basically have three different vignettes, each showing a lawyer being approached somewhere outside the office for legal advice. In each, the lawyer for one reason or another neglects to do what we all know we are supposed to do, in terms of setting up a formal attorney-client relationship, explaining how privilege and confidentiality work, etc. We wanted to focus on real-life scenarios--where we are making lots of little decisions that we don’t necessarily even think about—and show how they can, if we are not careful, actually add up to serious trouble. And since we wanted to show those “Oh, snap!” moments of realization, when it all hits the fan, we experimented with more of a “sitcom-with-confessionals” type format. So the vignettes are kind of like Modern Family or The Office, where the characters occasionally break camera and reveal additional insights directly to the audience.
Q: What inspired this particular program?
Michael: We originally started our CLE programs using Hollywood movies. A few years ago, we decided to produce original films. We enjoyed our work with Lawyers Mutual which led us to develop a close relationship with Lawyers Mutual of California, we now have four online CLE films for them.
The creation of the “The Accidental Lawyer” arose in light of the issue of unintentionally creating a lawyer-client relationship, or taking on certain duties to a prospective client. This is an issue that malpractice insurers were seeing a lot.
Chris: And they were really on board with not only providing substantive guidance about the governing legal principles and rules, but also exploring the underlying reasons why lawyers might forget or neglect to walk through the usual steps and cover themselves.
Q: Why do you feel it’s so important to make your workshops interactive?
Chris: Well, aside from maybe subliminal foreign language lessons, folks tend to learn better when they are awake. And even more so when they are interested and asked to contribute.
Michael: And because we have seen firsthand, time and again, that there is always a lot of wisdom in the room. Much more wisdom and experience than the two of us possess. We do offer our own stories and practical takeaways, for sure, but we believe that participants learn more and best from each other.
Q: Where can readers learn more about ReelTime and your programs?
Michael: Our website is www.reeltimecle.com, and there are additional trailers and program descriptions there. You can also email me at email@example.com and Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to reach out to Camille Stell at Lawyers Mutual, or one of the claims team.
To check out the schedule for the upcoming CLE program and register for a program near you click here.