legal therapy

Sometimes “Legal Therapy” is as important to the psyche as any form of counseling and well worth every penny. If you are unsure what I mean by “Legal Therapy”, it’s an appointment, maybe several, with an attorney to work through a whole array of feelings about a legal issue. The goal is to gain some perspective and emotional clarity on the problem you are facing. Just like with regular therapy, after the session(s), one decides on the best course of action to proceed after gaining valuable insight. I figure attorneys offer “therapy” quite often.

You might be wondering why I might select “Legal Therapy” for the topic of this most recent blog. Let me enlighten you. Get ready! You too might need a little therapy after this one.

For the 2016 teaching cycle, I spent well over a month creating six new classroom courses. I was pretty excited about this group of classes. Even as I wrote them, I kept thinking of the great discussions we’d have on each of the topics, how agents in the room would bring forth new points on the material, and how the classes might energize you to take the information back to your clients to further assist them. Each one of the six classes I truly believed would offer the fabulous classroom discussions and valuable client insight that I personally have come to enjoy, and honestly hope you appreciate as well.

Before going too much further with the reason why I sought “therapy”, it’s important to me that you know a little bit about these classes. I love these courses and for you to understand my emotional attachment to them, I’d like you to know them at least a little bit. Sharing this with you is part of my healing process. (Can you see why I needed “therapy”?) The COURSE DESCRIPTION OVERVIEW, the one I created and can never publish or add to our advertising, is available at our website. I encourage you to read the overview of the classes for yourself.

These were to be the classes we would instruct for 2016 and even for 2017, but we can’t because the state denied insurance CE approval for each and every one of them. The exception to the denials was MA ELIGIBILITY AND LTC PARTNERSHIP, but that doesn’t count because our approval requests did not include this course as we’ve offered it before.

It is also important to note these declines only came from the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance approved all six of these classes for insurance continuing education without question–every single hour. We can offer these classes to Wisconsin resident agents, but not to the residents of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

For the first time EVER–again, I repeat EVER–classes we’d submitted for insurance CE approval in Minnesota were DENIED! And not just one, but ALL of them. This had NEVER happened in ALL of 17 years of seeking insurance CE approval on literally hundreds of classes–EVER!

It is also important to note that we received declination letters for four of the classes on January 19, 2016 to which we promptly filed an appeal. The appeal, to our knowledge, was thorough and offered the required information on each of the approval deficiencies. Although now slightly concerned, we now believed all six courses would be approved. Instead, five were declined and the sixth, if approved, would have to replace an already approved course, and it was clear, like the others, we would not be able to comply with the request to their satisfaction to gain approval.

After having successfully prepared thousands of hours of insurance continuing education content which met with approval without question, you might be asking yourself, “What was different about these classes?” We are asking ourselves that same question and is part of the reason I sought “Legal Therapy”.

Honestly, I don’t believe there is anything different to these classes than similar courses we had approved in the last couple of years. The concerns broke down into basically two categories:

1. The content was political in nature, or a social issue, or personal information.

2.  If we were to use outside information (e.g. documentaries, videos, etc.), we had to supply authorization from the creator to use the material.

To the second point, authorization for copyrighted information, we offered an explanation of FAIR USE:

Fair use is a legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. It is one type of limitation and exception to the exclusive rights copyright law grants to the author of a creative work. Examples of fair use in United States copyright law include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor balancing test.

I encourage you to further read the information at Wikipedia regarding Fair Use. We cited much of it in our appeal to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and ironically, we believe sharing this copyrighted material from Wikipedia regarding Fair Use in our appeal and now in this blog also falls under FAIR USE. The Minnesota Department of Commerce still will not approve our insurance continuing education courses unless we provide written assurance from the copyright holder that we can offer courses with this material because the author believes it is FAIR USE.

Apparently while reviewing our appeal, they missed the statement, “without acquiring permission from the rights holders“, but even more important to my need for “Legal Therapy”, does the Minnesota Department of Commerce even have the right to ask for this as a requirement for insurance continuing education approval? It certainly is not defined in the statutes which makes it an arguable point, but because it is NOT defined in the statutes, it also does NOT guarantee we’d win.

Which brings us to the other general reason for decline of these classes for insurance CE approval, “The content was political, social, or personal.” For example, in our course, EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS, I shared some of my own money saving ideas–several ways I’d stretched my budget so that I could buy the proper insurance policies while still making the same savings contributions to my retirement, health savings account, and kids college funds. By sharing my experience with you, you could then share it with your clients so that they could still meet their long-term savings goals and afford the proper insurance. To me, that meets the test of containing “substantive knowledge that is appropriate and related to Minnesota insurance licensing issues”. Instead the material was viewed by the staff at the Minnesota Department of Commerce as “personal budgeting and shopping around freebies.”

In our ethics course, ETHICS: IS IT REALLY BLACK OR WHITE, we planned to discuss some of the racial tensions and potential preconceived notions that might hinder us in treating everyone equally. We were concerned to bring such a potentially volatile topic to class, but truly believed (and still do) that a real discussion of this is important to ensure that agents are conducting business without bias and that all potential clients are treated equally. To me, sitting here today, it seems clear this would be an approval topic for insurance ethics, but it too was declined because it was viewed as consisting of “social issue knowledge.”

Then we had classes like MORTGAGE MELTDOWN, MAKING MONEY TOO, and MIDDLE CLASS GAP. Each had a documentary to serve a launching point to discuss how economic trends, political policy, job changes, expense of college, the 2008 financial crisis, and much more had a potential impact on you and your clients. The goal of the course was to discuss these challenges and to offer suggestions so you could help your clients rise above many of these circumstances that might otherwise limit their ability to buy adequate insurance coverage and meet their financial goals. These topics were instead viewed as, “political and/or social activism.”

Maybe I am off base–maybe I have lost sight of what agents want and need from insurance continuing education and/or what the state has in mind for educating  insurance agents. I know over the years we have moved away from the “rules and regulations” of insurance sales to a flavor of class where we discuss ideas and concepts. This is what I do know: I simply cannot spend the remainder of my working career limited to discussing maximum IRA contributions or the rules to gain the latest tax credit. I did plenty of that and made it as entertaining as possible. We now have much of that published into online courses, and whenever we seem to include just the fact of insurance rules or the tax code in our classes, I see agents in the room immediately become bored–their eyes literally glaze over.

When I read these declines, I get the sense that to be approved, I have to create a boring flavor of insurance continuing education and I am really sorry, I simply cannot do that. That was never my intended business model, and I’d sooner quit than to torture you and me with that brand of live classroom insurance CE.

Back to my “therapy”, after listening to me and taking in the information I had to supply, a very highly recommended attorney basically said, “You’re right, and you can fight it, but there are risks to that. You could win the battle and lose the war, or you could even lose the battle and lose the war.” Essentially, if I pressed this legally, there are no guarantees how this would come out or how it might impact my business.

Thankfully the Minnesota Department of Commerce was very generous as I considered how I might want to proceed. I have until March 11, 2016 to file an appeal and they will grant an extension to further that deadline if I request it. Furthermore, they will also allow me to swap out content and even change the course title without submission of new fees. They truly are being quite accommodating as I work through my “therapy”.

Because we had to get courses out there to excited agents is also very important to note that the CLASSROOM INSURANCE CE COURSES we have available for 2016 and 2017 were also offered in previous insurance CE periods. They all are approved for insurance CE in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and as long as this is a new renewal period, you can attend the same course. To ensure you are not registering for a duplicate course, you can use these instructions to CHECK YOUR INSURANCE CE TRANSCRIPT. If the course title is not on your current transcript, you can proceed in registering for it.

I am very sorry. I would have preferred to offer you the new classes. Even in writing this, it thoroughly disappoints me that I spent countless hours creating these new courses–interesting, thought-provoking, engaging classroom courses that no one will ever experience. Please know, no one is more disappointed than I am that we cannot offer these classes to you for insurance continuing education. We will make this upcoming teaching cycle fun and educational. The two can converge, and thank you so much for supporting me in that method of teaching over the years. You–the fabulous agents that attend our classes–keep me energized to keep pushing forward after close to two decades of insurance CE instruction.

Since your opinion matters to me, what do you think we should do? Namely–have our classes gotten off track? Would you prefer more of the nuts and bolts of insurance rules and facts? What do you want out of Bryan Ventures courses? What is your reaction to the CE declines? Please email me your insight and responses. What you choose to share with me will make a difference in how we proceed. Thank you so much!

Published October 2015. This blog highlights the difficulty gaining insurance continuing education approval for content valuable to agents in Minnesota. Renee E. Bryan also publishes writing at her blog: WrongWayLizzie.Me.


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Renee E. Bryan ~~ President & Primary Instructor
primary instructor at bryan ventures
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