Ethical Dilemmas


It’s that time of year again. April is not only tax time, but it’s also the deadline for Oregon attorneys to complete continuing education (CLE) requirements as part of a three-year license renewal cycle. Of the 45 required credit hours, five must be focused on ethics, and these are some of the hardest to get. Paralegals and investigators also have similar CLE requirements for license renewal, which is what inspired me to team up with two criminal defense investigators, James Comstock and Steve Wilson, to design a CLE workshop called Ethical Dilemmas.


In past years, Fat Pencil has hosted similar workshops at our office, providing an enjoyable opportunity to mingle with colleagues, plus a short education program. However, it’s a challenge to duplicate this experience with an online event. Zoom is fine for passive learning and multitasking, but not so great for interactive discussion and socializing. So we decided to try a new platform called Gather, which features proximity-based video conferencing. Each participant controls an avatar and can navigate through a virtual meeting room complete with furniture and interactive objects such as posters, games, and documents.

For this event, we had 28 people spread around seven tables, each of which contained a unique question to consider. For example: “Is it ethical to use knowledge and connections from one active case to aid a defendant in a second unrelated case?” After ten minutes of discussion, everyone voted on their question, and then rotated to a new table. By the end of an hour, each question had logged about 20 responses including many insightful comments. More importantly, participants were able to select their own tables, switch the makeup of their discussion group over the course of the evening, and engage in a broad exchange of ideas with fellow investigators. We wrapped up the workshop by getting everyone together and taking turns stepping up to the virtual podium to share conclusions and pose new ethical questions that cropped up during the small group discussions.


A snapshot of the workshop in progress with lively discussions under way at each table

This was our first try at hosting a proximity chat workshop, and we had a great turnout thanks to some promotional help from the OCDLA. Participants seemed to genuinely enjoy the format, despite the learning curve associated with a new platform. It did require figuring out how to move an avatar in a video game style environment. And yes, it did require people to have their camera and microphone on the whole time. However, the freedom to join and leave conversations in a meeting room with familiar furnishings made the whole experience feel more substantial than a typical online meeting. The feedback from participants was almost all positive.

Good questions, interesting discussions, and a weird, but in the end, kind of fun format.

Criminal Defense Investigator

As expected, designing the workshop was tricky, and there were a few glitches to iron out. But now that we’ve figured out the format, it will be much easier to host similar workshops in the future. If you’d like to bring an Ethical Dilemmas CLE to your organization, please get in touch. Fat Pencil would be happy to help!


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio