I blogged earlier today about how Fastcase is disrupting the legal publishing field, providing free access to core legal research materials. In much the same way, Lawline.com has been disrupting the CLE industry. Last year, it began offering free mobile-phone access to more than 300 video CLE programs. Then, it followed that by launching a completely free e-learning website for lawyers, Learn.Lawline.com.

Now, in a move that is sure to shake up the CLE industry, Lawline has thrown open its front doors, allowing 100 percent free access to every program in its catalog. Lawline CEO David Schnurman likens the move to the recent announcement by Harvard and M.I.T. that they are teaming up to offer their courses online for free.

“We are in the middle of an e-learning revolution,” says Schnurman. “With our new platform, Lawline.com will be at the forefront of it.”

Is there a catch? Not really. If you want to receive CLE credit for a course, then you have to pay. However, you do not have to decide until after you watch the course. Watch the course for free, if you like. At the end, if you want credit, simply click the button on the page that says, “Get credit,” and you will be taken to a payment page.

In opening up these courses for free, Lawline is also opening them to anyone. Schnurman anticipates that business owners and consumers may view some of the courses to educate themselves about legal issues. Attorneys may even want to refer clients to specific videos to help them understand key legal issues.

Lawline’s move to free access comes as part of the relaunch of its website with several new features. Additional changes to the site will be rolled out within the next few weeks.

One stand-out feature is called “SmartNotes.” As you watch a presentation, the SmartNotes box appears to the right of the video. As the speaker progresses through key points (shown for each program as a “playlist”), you can add notes to the point currently being discussed. As you add notes, SmartNotes creates an outline, organizing your notes under the key topics. At any time, you can click a note to go back to the point in the presentation where you wrote it. Notes can also be emailed and printed.

On laptops and smaller screens, the new design makes it difficult to see the video and the slides at the same time. A fix to this will be rolled out shortly, Schnurman told me, that will align the slides and the video side by side, one in a larger window than the other. With a simple mouse click, you will be able to dynamically choose which appears in the larger window, the slides or the video.

Schnurman concedes that it was a difficult decision for the company to open up its entire course catalog. But he emphasized that Lawline sees itself not primarily as a CLE provider, but as an education technology company. “It was a pretty big deal for us and it’s a pretty big deal for the industry,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.