The ongoing challenges we have all faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unprecedented and, frankly, exhausting. Women bar leaders have always had to face unexpected challenges which require tough decisions about cancellation of events. Although some incidents, such as Hurricane Katrina, have been tragic and had long-lasting consequences, for the most part the precipitating events, although sudden, have also come to an end. Flood waters recede, communities come together to rebuild, volunteers from other regions give assistance. A path forward can be envisioned. Those who were in leadership positions at the time of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 recall the national sense of uncertainty that followed those first dark weeks. A consensus soon developed that the right thing to do was to move forward with the ordinary patterns of life. Indeed, it was sometimes said that if large events were to be cancelled “the terrorists will have won,” and the true patriot was one who kept to her ordinary schedule. In the case of the community spread of the novel coronavirus, the opposite is true. It has become increasingly evident that the “right” thing to do is to cancel all or at least most in-person events, and promote social distancing while avoiding social isolation.
Cancelling or “postponing” a large event is always a difficult decision to make, for financial and logistical reasons and because of the inevitable disappointment it causes. It is an easier decision to make when you know you are not alone. During the ups and downs caused by new Covid variants or increased community spread, women’s bar groups have had to cancel or postpone large and small in-person events. While “postponing” an event can seem more comforting than outright cancellation, the uncertainty and shaky logistics of postponement of a major event for a date just a few months away may lead to more stress and expense than simply saying that such an event will not be held this year.
Communicate with your members. Don’t wait until you have the “perfect” press release to let them know that you are postponing an event. Give them the basics, and let them know you will follow up with more information when you have it. Communication relieves anxiety and promotes healthy social interaction. Here’s how New Jersey Women Lawyers Association informed their members on March 12 of the postponement of the March 31 event. Click here to see how Minnesota Women Lawyers explains the timeline and procedure for processing refunds for their April 24th annual meeting. And kudos to Colorado Women’s Bar Association for sending detailed information to their membership about cancellation of their May 15-17 Annual Convention incorporating acknowledgment of the hard work of the planning committee and the support of sponsors, all while maintaining the theme of the Convention!
When you do communicate with your members about topics other than event cancellations and postponements, remember that it is decidedly not “business as usual,” and your language needs to reflect that. This isn’t the time to pull out old templates or assume that previous deadlines for such things as submissions for newsletters or committee agendas will apply. Most of your members are juggling new challenges with working from home while caring for the generation above and/or below. They have been inundated with messages from organizations and businesses expressing concern about the virus, even without having had a true relationship. (See Alexandra Petri’s amusing article on this topic.) And they are buffeted by minute-by-minute changes, updates and worries about how their family and the rest of the world is coping. Here’s how New Jersey Women Lawyers Association introduced their development of a virtual community.
Connect with your members. This is a great time to become proficient with live streaming. If you don’t currently have the resources to live stream, find and publicize other options. Reach out to local speakers who might be willing to do a webcast. Invite your members to attend one of our free webinars. Even though we are seemingly inundated with information about COVID-19, many of your members are being asked by their friends and clients for advice. Although bar associations must be careful not to give the impression they are providing specific legal advice, general guidance is very valuable. Here’s what California Women Lawyers provided to their members. The New York Women’s Bar Association issued a special newsletter which focuses on the numerous issues facing their membership at this time. Stanford Law School has created a searchable database of COVID-19 resources and legal guidance, and providing a link to the database may be appreciated by your members. Find out what your members need. Take a look at this Minnesota Women Lawyers survey to gauge the experience of women attorneys during the pandemic.
Most women’s bar groups now provide virtual programs. And this is a time to connect in less structured ways, too. How about Colorado Women Lawyers‘ Moms Virtual Pajama and Pizza Party?
Video conferencing tips may be helpful to your members. Although many of your members have used various platforms for video conferencing in the past, there is no doubt that everyone now is having more business and personal meetings on camera. There are just a very few tips that can make all the difference between viewers seeing murky “neck shots” because people are using a less than ideal light source and are looking down at their laptop camera, and a less distracting and more professional view. Here are some tips:
Consider posting links to applicable resources on your web page. This is a format which can be easily updated as resources become available. Of particular value are local resources. See the example below.
Review the Red Bee Group’s National Survey on the New Normal of Working Remotely to get a quick overview of the challenges facing legal employers.
Check out these resources for more information.
The National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) is a great resource for bar associations at any time, but they are especially helpful now when things are rapidly changing, and no one person can come up with all the best answers. Here’s a link to their Pandemic Preparedness Resources Page.