When I wrote my last column, in late February, I could not have foreseen the maelstrom coming at us that has changed our lives so fundamentally. Just a few weeks later, new terms and phrases now pepper our conversations: confinement, isolation, social distancing and flatten the curve. Our worlds have been turned topsy-turvy, and we feel as if we are on a perpetual version of the teacups ride at Seabreeze.
Over the same few weeks, your Monroe County Bar Association has kicked into high gear. First, on a rotating basis and then completely, staff began to work remotely, allowing all MCBA functions to be covered, even though the physical office is closed. Last fall, the MCBA invested in hardware and software to provide the capability to stream meetings, programs and CLEs to our members — wherever they are — over Zoom. It was a very wise investment; every day, committees and sections are using videoconference calls to meet, connect, support, plan and stream content.
Recognizing the need to provide current information to our members, we created a COVID-19 resource area on our website with law firm work product, releases and forms for federal loan programs, employment law information, and we have collected and posted the latest communications from the courts. Keenly aware that connectivity is important to our well-being, we engaged our members individually on multiple levels, through phone calls and virtual get-togethers sponsored by the Technology Committee and the Senior Lawyers Committee. Going forward, virtual wellness chats, discussing topics ranging from coping to stress reduction techniques, will be held each Monday from 3 to 4 p.m., and the Senior Lawyers will meet virtually every other Friday beginning April 17, at 4 p.m. Reach out to Liz Novak Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain your Zoom connection to these events.
Gazing forward to what our new world might look like, the President’s Commission on Access to Justice met to plan virtual outreach, including training, to recruit and engage lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to meet critical needs during this period, and to prepare for the anticipated needs of the community over the coming months.
To keep our members engaged, CLE (through the streaming platform) ramped up on topics to help our members get up to speed: the Labor & Employment and Education Committees developed and presented — in a matter of days — a popular program on COVID-19. And responding to the needs of our members, MCBA quickly organized and presented a FREE program to assist law firms to work virtually, along with Red Cave Consulting. Our members responded positively — we had to cut off live registrations when we reached capacity, and the recording of the program is now available through our on-demand platform — without charge.
We continue to offer CLE programs on ever-popular topics: the annual Burt Lipshie update on Civil Practice was held on April 3 (now available on replay through our on-demand platform), and a program on the ABCs of Data Privacy, including considerations of the privacy implications of working from home, will be held on April 16, as well as an Ethics program on “Common Ethics Pitfalls” on April 22. Our members have embraced virtual programs and have availed themselves of the platform feature that allows program attendees to submit questions to the moderator in real time.
Moving quickly to stay on top of our evolving legal community, just in the last week, MCBA has presented an information session on best practices using Zoom, and convened a virtual discussion with 7th Judicial District Administrative Judge Craig Doran on the state courts attended by nearly 90 people and broadcast via Facebook Live that went well over the hour allotted. If you missed the discussion, we have posted the recoding on our Facebook page and to our website. We have scheduled a session with Hon. Frank Geraci, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, on our federal courts for April 17 at 9 a.m. Another relevant offering to help our members working from home coming will be on April 9 at 9 a.m., when MCBA is presenting an Ethics CLE on the ethical considerations of working remotely, titled “Ethical Considerations for Law Practice in the Time of COVID-19: Staying Afloat in Uncharted Waters.” You can register at the MCBA website or send an email to email@example.com. And, because federally sponsored programs responding to the COVID-19 crisis are continuing to evolve, the MCBA will present a FREE program on April 13 with the most current information on the CARES Act and other federal legislation. Also on April 13, we will be presenting a CLE on the “Nuts and Bolts of Mesothelioma” — FREE to our members through the generosity of sponsor Elliott, Stern & Calabrese, LLP. Visit the MCBA website to register for these programs.
The MCBA is acutely aware of the financial toll on our members from the COVID-19 crisis. Many of our programs are being offered at no cost. Where we do need to charge, CLE rates have been reduced, and we are making CLE programs available without charge to those who simply want to listen and learn, without CLE credit. We teamed up with the New York State Bar Association to offer a free program — with CLE credit — to MCBA members, on “The Stimulus Package Survival Guide: What Solos and Small Firms Should Know.” Registration was closed at 1,000 participants, but the program is available for on-demand viewing, without charge, through the NYSBA’s website; use the code MCBA4220 to remove the charge. We also want to remind you of the mental health services offered by MCBA through Tree of Hope Counseling at no cost. Call the hot line at 585-353-1541 or visit the Member Resources page of the MCBA website.
We have had to cancel our Law Day celebration, where we would have acknowledged the achievements of many of our MCBA award recipients. The theme of Law Day 2020 is “Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100,” to celebrate the centennial of the transformative constitutional amendment that guaranteed the right of citizens to vote would not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex. We will still mark Law Day, with a virtual program, featuring Deborah Hughes, President & CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, on April 30 to honor the legacy of Susan B. Anthony, and we will continue to bring you events addressing voting rights in the century since the passage of the 19th Amendment throughout the year. In next month’s column, I will also highlight the achievements of our award recipients — Steve Modica, Carla Palumbo, Hon. J. Scott Odorisi, Jeremy Sher and Sid Bahl. We WILL congratulate them in person later this year — stay tuned.
The MCBA is also facing financial challenges. Our association status does not allow the MCBA to participate in the most attractive small business loans offered under the CARES Act, and we have canceled many of our events and cut CLE fees to protect our members. We are thankful for those sponsors who have continued their financial support, allowing us to offer CLE without charge. Working with a necessarily reduced staff, the MCBA will continue to adapt, to innovate and to support its members — and we hope we can count on your continued support in the coming months.
These are difficult days for so many — for those juggling family and practice demands, for those facing economic uncertainty, for those battling the virus, or trying to protect their families, and for all of us peering forward to a changed community. We are in awe of the courage and perseverance of first responders and health care workers. We do know this will pass, but not in the span of a few weeks as we had hoped. Holiday celebrations from afar and limited opportunities to enjoy the glories of spring are particularly cruel ironies. We miss our family members — seeing and talking is not a substitute for a hug or touch. We miss our friends, our colleagues and dare I say even our adversaries? What will the “new normal” be when we return to our offices? We will have mastered new technology, but we know most acutely that connections matter and that nothing replaces the in-person encounters. So please take care of yourself, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and wear face coverings when in public, and we will see you on the other side.
Carolyn G. Nussbaum is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and is a partner and litigator at Nixon Peabody LLP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.