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Coming together at a distance: Annual Convention social events look to provide the personal touch

Senior Editor Top Stories

virtual socializingThere won’t be any hors d’oeuvres or buffet receptions, and no bars, open or otherwise (although café con leche, pastries, and mojito-making lessons may be involved).

One consequence of the Bar going to an Virtual Annual Convention is an end to the handshaking, elbow-rubbing, close-quarters social events, and receptions where lawyers could chat about business and catch up on personal information with colleagues and friends.

But a few organizations have set up some virtual gatherings as part of their convention activities, looking for more informal online settings for lawyers to gather, even if they are separately at their digital devices. Some of the events are still mostly social in nature, others have taken a more educational bent. Most will include some interactive features for attendees.

“It certainly doesn’t replace the face-to-face contact we want, but we’re trying to make the best of it and maintain our contact with our alumni,” said Tim Kolaya, president of the University of Miami Law Alumni Association. “Roaming the hallways, chatting with old classmates is a great part of the convention experience. We’re trying to replicate that as much as possible.”

Emory University School of Law decided to use its event “to join Dean Mary Anne Bobinski for a conversation about how Emory Law is adapting to the current crisis and hear from guests about how their firms and businesses are adapting,” according to Courtney R. Stombock, associate dean of advancement and alumni engagement.

The law school is considering conducting a poll of participants and a quiz about their time at the law school.

Vivian HodzThe new Hispanic Bar Association of Florida had considered having a kickoff event at the convention as a gateway to its formal start on July 1. Vivian Hodz, who helped organize the new association and is also chair of the Bar’s Annual Convention Committee, said the plan was to have a café con leche event.

When the convention went virtual, “we decided, why not, let’s have a little virtual coffee,” Hodz said. “We continued with the theme that everybody grab your coffee, maybe grab a pastry, and hop on Zoom to chat.”

It fits with the spirit of adapting the convention, at the last minute, from an in-person to online event.

“As Annual Convention chair, we’ve really had to be creative about how we continue to do this, this is a whole new thing,” she said.

For St. Thomas University School of Law, the decision was to replace its alumni reception with a helpful event.

“Our virtual event scheduled for June 18 from 5-6 p.m. will be a presentation titled ‘Law Firm Survival During a Pandemic Crisis,’” said Jorge Cox, assistant dean for alumni relations and development. “The presentation will be provided by STU Law alumna Marbet Lewis, who is co-founder of the law firm Spiritus Law, located in Coral Gables. We will be using Zoom as our platform.”

The Florida Bar's 2020 Annual Convention goes 'virtual'Stetson University College of Law will continue its “tradition of recognizing some of our most active and influential alumni at our reception held in conjunction with the annual Florida Bar convention,” said Mike Casey, associate director of alumni relations. “Although some of the more social elements of the in-person event cannot be replicated online, we are committed to honoring the meritorious service and achievements of our dedicated alumni leaders, albeit virtually. During this year’s presentation, which will be conducted via GoToWebinar, six Stetson Lawyers Alumni Association awards will be presented, including the Distinguished Service Award, Outstanding Alumni Representative Award, Paul May Meritorious Service Award, President’s Award, Distinguished Alumni Award, and the prestigious Ben Willard Award.”

Honoring alumni also figures into the University of Miami School of Law’s plans.

“We’ll provide awards to some of our prominent alums, recognize Bar leaders who are alumni, and figure some way to open it up to the socializing you would have at an event where people would mingle and chat,” said Kolaya.

Details were still being firmed up as this article was prepared, although the meeting will be conducted on Zoom, which Kolaya said the association has used for several alumni functions.

The Cuban American Bar Association President Frances De La Guardia said the organization has “embraced the ability to come together virtually while still observing physical distancing guidelines. In some respects, the pandemic has brought us closer, albeit in an online forum.”

CABA plans an event, “Mojitos and Masks — Legal Networking in the Age of Coronavirus” on June 18.

“The virtual reception allows CABA a forum to continue to reach our members, as well as Florida Bar members, which is especially important at a time when building community is critical. Events like ours provide a supportive professional space, particularly given the various mental health matters that are influencing the profession in ways even yet to be seen,” De La Guardia said.

Judges across the state will talk about the pandemic, practicing law, and how practitioners can protect their physical and mental health.

“In addition to providing some legal insight on these issues, we also look forward to providing an opportunity to do something fun and learn how to make a mojito,” De La Guardia said.

Barry University School of Law has already transformed its monthly alumni mixers and is doing the same for its alumni reception at the convention.

“Obviously this has to be a more structured event than an in-person social gathering,” said Brigitte Debbarh, director of special events and alumni relations at Barry. “To that goal the Barry University president, the dean of the law school, and several distinguished alumni will be addressing the group.”

Here’s a listing of these social events, and a contact for those interesting in attending.

• Emory Law — Poolside Chat with the Dean: Legal Education and Scholarship in the COVID-19 Crisis, June 17, 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. Contact: Nicole Planc at [email protected].

• Café Con Leche with the Florida Hispanic Bar Association, June 18, 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. on Zoom. Contact: Vivian Hodz at [email protected].

• Barry University School of Law Alumni Mixer, June 18, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Zoom. Contact Brigitte Debbarh at [email protected].

• St. Thomas University — Law Firm Survival During a Pandemic Crisis, June 18, 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. on Zoom. Contact: Jorge Cos at [email protected].

• Stetson University — College of Law Alumni Awards Presentation, June 18, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on GoToMeeting. Contact: Mike Casey at [email protected].

• University of Miami — School of Law, June 18, 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. on Zoom. Contact: Georgie Angones at [email protected].

• Cuban American Bar Association — CABA Presents: Mojitos and Masks – Legal Networking in the Age of Coronavirus, June 18, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Zoom. Contact: Amanda Fernandez at [email protected].

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