By Ona Alston Dosunmu
As we begin our third month of sheltering in place, many of us at CLA have begun thinking about what the mid-term future may hold. When California reopens what will it mean for our bar association and what will the new normal look like? It seems unlikely that we will be permitted to gather in groups of more than a few dozen. Even if we’re allowed to do so, will people want to? What will post-pandemic bar associations look like? What will the post-pandemic CLA look like? No one knows for sure, but here are some thoughts based on lessons learned from our experience producing content about COVID-19.
Speed matters. Focus matters. And until further notice, everything will be virtual. On multiple occasions during this pandemic we have taken ideas from a concept to a full-blown CLE program in a matter of days. And our community has responded with robust participation—sometimes in record numbers. An early program on employment matters attracted over 2,000 participants and a later, more targeted program intended for an audience of law firm managers and owners attracted more than 700 participants. Our “Town Hall” style discussion with several judges on family law issues, scheduled for this Tuesday, May 5, already has nearly 700 people registered. We may return to a time in which we organize programs a year or more in advance and hundreds of people register months ahead of the scheduled date, but I don’t think that time will come soon—certainly not before there’s a cure or vaccine for COVID-19. And the experts tell us that day is more than a year away, if ever. (There are, after all, diseases for which there is no cure or vaccine.)
Just-in-time, carefully curated content that’s relevant to what’s happening right now will continue to be critical. Our ability to act quickly is only part of the equation that led to the success of much of our COVID-19 programming to date. The other part of the equation is, of course, the relevance of the content. As emergency orders and court rules are announced and legislative packages passed, our community needs trusted sources not only to provide content—to let lawyers in the state know what the various laws and rules say—but also to provide context and meaning. As we evolve, perhaps content will be bundled with real-time communication technology to facilitate an even shorter turnaround time between legal developments, our ability to communicate them to our members and our members’ ability to analyze them and share practical wisdom about what those developments may mean in the real world of legal practice they inhabit.
And while the “everything will be virtual” point is, in many ways, self-explanatory, I am curious and eager to see what new technologies emerge from the necessity of meeting, communicating, celebrating and practicing law while social distancing. I am optimistic about our association’s ability to be nimble, agile and creative and to rise to the demands of the moment in a way that makes CLA a stronger and more vibrant community of California lawyers coming out of the pandemic than we were going in.