California Lawyers Association

Building Member Value in Unprecedented Times

By President Emilio Varanini and 
Chairman of the Board of Representatives Howard “Chip” Wilkins

With Chip ending his one-year term as board chair and Emilio entering the second year of his presidency, we wanted to share with you our perspective on a challenging but remarkable year – and what it means for you and the larger legal community.

Never could we have imagined, of course, that we’d be leading CLA during a time of incredible change wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the global awakening around racial justice. We’re pleased to say that our organization has managed to not only meet this moment but also continue its focus on ensuring the long-term health of our association.

Pandemic programming 

After public health orders in light of the pandemic forced us to cancel our in-person events, our staff and volunteers adapted quickly. We moved our education programs online and set up online communities that have allowed us to support each other and share information throughout the crisis. We were thrilled to have been able to offer more than 25 free programs on COVID-19 after shelter-in-place orders went into effect. 

We’ve invested significant effort and resources in leveraging the expertise of our Sections to provide this important programming to our members and the public. These new online resources and platforms have worked out even better than we could have anticipated. As of the end of August, we were able to offer 163 continuing legal education webinars and virtual conferences with more than 21,000 participating live and more than 35,000 watching later on-demand.

The pandemic also raised unprecedented questions for all three branches of our government. CLA was privileged to offer our guidance on a variety of issues such as:

  • Proposing solutions concerning the numerous family law matters that were thrown into question as a result of COVID-19
  • Supporting emergency relief on an expedited basis in civil cases statewide
  • Exploring options to allow 2020 law school graduates to enter into law practice 
  • Recommending that notaries be temporarily authorized to provide services remotely through videoconference

Racial justice work

More recently, we saw simmering racial justice issues come to a boil during national protests over the killing of George Floyd. We’re proud of our membership for organically stepping up to form a Racial Justice Committee to continue the momentum for positive change. In the brief time since its formation, the committee has held numerous education programs and town hall meetings on a variety of issues involving racism, racial justice, intersectionality and inequality. Several more programs are scheduled through the end of the year. Thanks to the RJC’s work, CLA supported four racial justice initiatives at the American Bar Association House of Delegates. 

We can all be proud of this ongoing work, which is focused on providing programming to the public and the legal profession, pursuing systemic changes through the legislature, publishing racial justice articles in our CLA publications and curating meaningful resources for those seeking to make an impact.

Initiatives and flagship events

We’ve also continued to add to our growing list of member benefits by launching a Career Center. In keeping with our mission – we added a fourth key initiative, Health & Wellness, to our three existing initiatives:

And we are excited to virtually host our two flagship events – the Sept. 24-26 Annual Meeting and the Oct. 7-8 Solo and Small Firm Summit. We hope that a lower price point and the ability to forego the time and expense of traveling will encourage more of you to join us.

Behind the scenes, we’ve been working to set CLA on a path of long-term sustainability and independence by developing our organizational infrastructure and working internally on a number of efforts to increase our value to our members and the legal profession. 

We hope that you agree that CLA has come a long way in providing value to you and ensuring the organization’s long-term health, despite the challenges that 2020 has brought. 

For all these things, we are truly grateful for the staff, led by Executive Director Ona Alston Dosunmu, and the engagement of the many volunteers such as yourself. 

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