There’s no doubt that most lawyers are social creatures and that, until recently, the practice of law has been a hands-on, in-person, tradition-bound business. Litigators spend a large part of their professional lives in social settings: courtrooms, conference rooms, and public meeting spaces.
Opportunities for in-person communication — “networking” — are vital for business development. Sharing work with others in a team is critical to the mental health of many people, especially those who gravitate to the legal profession. Lawyers draw energy, motivation, and indispensable legal and practice knowledge from being in the company of other lawyers.
These things have been missing from many lawyers’ lives for nearly two years. Even as bar associations and law firm leaders have recognized the many benefits remote work has brought to the legal profession, they’ve also taken note of how the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the social aspects of lawyers’ professional lives.
Fortunately, they’re doing something about it. Here are eight virtual ways that the legal profession is getting together and working together, COVID-19 notwithstanding:
1. Meet With Judges
Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Food Court lunch hour series attempts to replicate online the invaluable experience of spending time with other attorneys and judges, forming insights and professional relationships that can be drawn upon to help clients throughout a lawyer’s career.
A recent program featured Illinois Supreme Court Justice David Overstreet, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Y. Scudder, and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Celia Gamrath discussing preparation for oral arguments and best practices for handling questions from the bench.
Getting to Know Your New Hennepin County Judges is a series of online-only events, beginning in December 2021, that will give Hennepin County Bar Association members the opportunity to virtually “meet” newly installed judges in the Hennepin County judicial system.
The Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section holds (Virtual) Lunch With a Judge events to acquaint section members with the local judiciary. This month the program features Cook County Circuit Court Judge Clare McWilliams, an important local jurist who presides over medical malpractice, asbestos-related litigation, construction, and toxic tort cases.
And in Los Angeles this month, members of the Los Angeles County Bar Association can chat virtually with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rita L. Badhan during the bar group’s regular Virtual Brown Bag Lunch series.
2. Work Up a Sweat
When it comes to fitness, our smartwatches could be a lot smarter and a little more helpful. Time to stand! Stand up and move a little for one minute. For someone who’s been sitting in a chair for three hours, that single minute away from the computer screen won’t relieve any remote lawyer’s fatigue or waning focus — or contribute even a jot to physical fitness.
Fortunately, local bar associations have come to the rescue with healthful programs that provide more than a few moments of physical exercise. Among them are the New York City Bar Association’s regular Yoga for Lawyers online class and the Atlanta Bar Association’s 30 Minutes of Desk Exercises program.
3. Schedule a Play Date
Federal guidance on COVID-19 safety is constantly evolving, but there’s one bit of advice that hasn’t changed: avoid large gatherings and maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet. According to the CDC, “indoor events, especially in places with poor ventilation, pose more risk than outdoor events.” So why not hold an event outdoors at a large public space? That’s what the Atlanta Bar Association did recently. The bar group held its Fun Fall Social at Westside Park in central Atlanta, a 350-acre open space with a playground and plenty of room for outdoor games and conviviality.
4. Share Music
The Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association has been regularly publishing a Spotify playlist to keep section members focused, motivated, and positive during long hours of COVID-enforced remote work. This month, for example, section members can find relief in Dermot Kennedy’s refrain on the Better Days single: “The rain, it ain’t permanent and soon, we’ll be dancin’ in the sun.”
5. Play Games
Online games have been around for a long time, so they’re a natural go-to diversion and team-building tool for busy, locked-down lawyers.
The California Lawyers Association has been holding regular Zoom Trivia Nights since May 2021. The CLA’s December 2021 Trivia Night on Zoom is a joint affair with the California Judges Association and, of course, an opportunity for members to network and compete over pieces of information of little importance or value (which, actually, is the definition of trivia).
6. Host an Award Show
This year will be the second time that the Washington State Bar Association holds its annual APEX Awards entirely online. The APEX Awards, which are typically held in a large Seattle conference hotel, recognize notable contributions to the law and local community by members of the Washington State legal community. Among the award recipients this year are a legal innovation award to Jacqueline G. Schafer, who helped develop the Clearbrief AI-enhanced legal citation review software, and a posthumously conferred lifetime achievement award to William H. Gates II, a leading figure in Seattle’s legal and philanthropic scene for many decades.
For anyone curious about what a virtual legal awards ceremony looks like, the 2020 WSBA APEX Awards program is available in its entirety at this link.
7. Simply “Hang Out” Online
Sometimes merely hanging out online is a welcome diversion and an opportunity to learn from others. The New York City Bar Association’s Senior Lawyers Chatroom is one such opportunity. It’s a loosely structured, weekly networking event, sometimes with a guest speaker.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted small firm lawyers harder than any other segment of the legal community — both in terms of revenue and in terms of isolation and diminished business development opportunities. The Austin Bar Association’s series of Solos Supporting Solos Online addresses the needs of solo lawyers with regular Zoom-delivered programming on topics of interest to that community. An upcoming program will be discussing how solos can strengthen relationships with existing and former clients and network effectively within the limitations of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
8. Throw a Virtual Holiday Party
No one really needs a reason to throw a party. But if you’re looking for a justification to bring business associates and clients together for networking and fun, the year-end holiday season is as good a reason as any. Last year many law firms and bar associations canceled their annual holiday gatherings due to COVID-19 concerns, but this year appears to be different. Holiday parties are taking place, albeit smaller in scope and carefully choreographed to produce as safe a gathering as possible — all at a time when vaccines are widely available and the dominant sentiment among law firm leaders is to return their lawyers to, at least, a hybrid work environment.
There will be virtual holiday parties too, predominantly among smaller, local, and specialized bar groups. In Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Homer S. Brown Division is mingling virtually in the context of a team-building game aimed at discovering the identity of a thief who stole the eggnog recipe on the night before the big holiday party.
In Greensboro (N.C.), the Greensboro Bar Association will be holding its annual holiday party virtually for the second year in a row. A bourbon-themed — but virtual — holiday party will be held by the Collin County (Texas) Bar Association. Proceeds from the online event will benefit Legal Aid of North West Texas.
Parties, play dates, mingling with local judges, getting in a quick workout, or merely hanging out with colleagues. Sounds great though, in reality, the ways we’re participating in these activities are less than ideal. Virtual life can be dispiriting at times. Let’s look on the bright side, shall we? We’re still together, albeit virtually, blessed with modern technologies that allow work and play to take place over any distance. And we can be proud to work within a community of doers, of optimists, who each day surprise us with new ways to serve clients, to grow personally and professionally, in these unprecedented and challenging times.