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Hit hard by COVID-19, voluntary bars look to ‘Restart, Rebound & Recover’

Senior Editor Top Stories
Voluntary bar town halls

Representatives of Florida’s voluntary bar associations held a virtual town hall on July 28, titled, “Membership Engagement, Retention & the Return to In-Person Meetings.” About 100 participants discussed the challenges of, and tips for, enhancing voluntary bar membership renewals, as well as best practices for planning events during a health crisis.

With social gatherings baked into their DNA, Florida’s voluntary bar associations are feeling especially challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vivian Cortes-Hodz“A lot of bar activities are very much based on comradery and connection, and when you don’t have that, it’s very hard to feel like you are part of the community of your association,” said Vivian Cortes Hodz, chair of The Florida Bar’s Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee.

A low point came when the pandemic forced Bar organizers to cancel this summer’s Annual Voluntary Bar Leaders Conference.

But a new virtual campaign, “Restart, Rebound & Recover,” is offering VBA leaders valuable programming when it’s needed most, Hodz said.

“Through it, we are providing alternating content to our voluntary bar leaders in the form of webinars and town halls, every month, for them to connect, and collaborate, and work together,” she said. “It has been really well received by our bar leaders throughout the state.”

The campaign held a virtual town hall on July 28, titled, “Membership Engagement, Retention & the Return to In-Person Meetings.”

The 90-minute program featured Amelia Beard, vice chair of the Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee, as moderator and voluntary bar leaders Lori Ward of Walton County, Lisa Terwilliger of Collier County, and Kyleen Hinkle of a statewide association, as facilitators.

About 100 participants discussed the challenges of, and tips for, enhancing membership renewals, as well as best practices for planning events during a health crisis, said Jeff Doran, The Florida Bar’s manager of bar services.

“Bar leaders from small, large, statewide and specialty bars on the Zoom connection also provided insight on how they are working together with local bar leaders to partner on CLE, judicial/election forums, mixers and health and wellness events,” Doran said. “A complete summary will be shared with all voluntary bar presidents and executive directors as the effort to restart, rebound and recover continues.”

On June 30, the campaign sponsored a webinar that focused on the technical aspects of creating a webinar and applying for CLE approval.

The next webinar, scheduled for August 25, will focus on budgets and financing, Hodz said.

“That will help them, in this new landscape, come up with and share creative ideas as to how they can keep their bars afloat, essentially, during potentially dire financial times for voluntary bars,” she said.

The next town hall, “Lessons Learned,” is scheduled for September 22. An open forum town hall is scheduled for November 17. The final webinar, “Sponsorships,” is October 20.

Doran said the pandemic’s uneven surge is making it harder for voluntary bar leaders to plan.

“Miami-Dade and Palm Beach might not return to in-person events until after the first of the year, whereas in some of the rural areas, where the spikes aren’t as evident, they may try some smaller events,” he said.

One voluntary bar association couldn’t agree how to conduct a small retreat, Doran said. Organizers live-streamed the event, so members could attend in person, or online.

Hodz said the pandemic has been challenging, but bar leaders shine the brightest when facing the biggest challenges.

“We all want to make an impact,” Hodz said. “And that’s one of the fabulous things that I’ve found out about voluntary bar leaders, we all care so much about the profession, and each other, that it’s energizing.”

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