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Local bars go virtual to help members address COVID-19

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SupportPensacola attorney David Carroll recently conducted a six-hour non-jury trial using the Zoom video conferencing platform. Impressed by the process, he wrote up an online account and included a tutorial about using Zoom.

The Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association posted Carroll’s article on its website and emailed a link to its members.

The Broward County Bar Association has hosted online seminars on how to conduct a webinar for clients and how to do remote mediation, and is coordinating a sharing of member resources among voluntary bars across the state. That consortium of local bars held an April 1 webinar on how affected law firms can apply for government disaster relief funds.

Palm Beach County Bar Association Executive Director Carla Tharp Brown recounted, “We are offering a free webinar dealing with law practice management and basically how to go to remote when you have to. We’re going to do another seminar, a COVID-19 resource guide for law firms and employment law.”

That’s just a sampling of how Florida’s voluntary bars, even as their employees work from home, are “going virtual” to find ways to help their members deal with remote working, social distancing, and other strictures imposed by the spread of COVID-19 and attempts to limit its reach.

“Communicating and educating the lawyers across the state is important, so … we’ve been partnering and working together and providing seminars that are on point and ultimately help lawyers right now,” said Braulio Rosa, executive director of the Broward County Bar Association. “I just want to provide the information that lawyers across the state can use and process, because it is a scary time. If you’ve got a law firm, you’ve got to worry about how you can carry your law firm, how do you pay bills, how do you attend hearings?”

“What we’re really trying to do is serve as a valuable resource for our members right now,” said Jeff Nall, executive director of the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association. “From whatever source we can find, we are trying to share information and be a conduit for best practices.”

Much of that effort has focused on webinars, but associations have found other ways to help. Nall, a member of the National Association of Bar Executives, said that organization has shared resources “from a national prospective.”

And of course the posting of Carroll’s article (available at https://esrba.com/UserFiles/files/Zoom%20Procedure.pdf) is another example. Carroll recounted how the proceeding, where the opposing party was unrepresented, went. Problems, including the opposing party, who was appearing by phone, having the call drop several times and using computer and camera phones to help identify documents.

“I had the pleasure of attending my first video trial with Judge Lacey Powell Clark presiding over a family law matter,” Carroll wrote in his account. “In my opinion, the technical part of the hearing went very well, with very few interruptions. I believe the parties were happy to complete the trial that day instead of a lengthy postponement.”

Before the pandemic, Nall said he had heard of Zoom but never used it. Now with his bar association offices closed and employees, including him, working from home or remotely, “I’m using it three times a day now.”

Jenny Brown, executive director of the Orange County Bar Association, echoed other bars that consolidating and publicizing local court orders to their members and improving communications are among their top priorities.

The OCBA is “serving as a conduit between the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court and our membership in terms of court procedures, etc.,” Brown said. “We are looking to host some virtual ‘Town Halls’ with judges in different areas such as family law answering questions from attorneys via Zoom.”

Brown said his bar’s Health and Wellness Committee is planning virtual challenges for April 15 through May 15.

“We’ve got all kinds of things in the works such as hosting a virtual ‘draw and talk with me’ with exoneree Valentino Dixon, to a private concert virtually, etc.,” Brown said. Dixon was wrongfully convicted of a Buffalo, NY, 1991 murder and served 27 years before being exonerated, and became a noted golf course artist while in prison.

“We’re reaching out to our members to see what they’re doing to stay well,” said Carla Brown, the PBCBA executive director, and those tips and experiences will be shared online.

The PBCBA is planning an April 14 webinar on how law firms can quickly adjust to a coronavirus world and an April 15 course on law firms and employment law. (Attendance at those online seminars is limited and preference will be given to PBCA members.)

“We’ve been striving to make sure we’re accessible to our members,” said Jacksonville Bar Association Executive Director Craig Shoup. “When we made the switch [to working remotely,] it included GoToMeeting [an online conferencing program] and we immediately started anything we could move to a video conference. We are having our committee meetings, we are having CLE, we are having to make a decision on our Law Day luncheon, but we are prepared to do that virtually if we can. We have a mentor/mentee monthly breakfast roundtable. We will do that virtually next week.”

Covid-19 related seminars may be found through the local associations’ websites, and those produced with the cooperation of several bars can be found on the Broward County Bar Association’s website [https://cle.browardbar.org/us/]. Most of the seminars are recorded and will be available after the initial live event.

Some of the CLE’s are free; those that are the collaboration of several bars and posted on the BCBA site are $15. Already posted on the BCBA side are: How to Present a Successful Client Webinar — Do’s, Don’ts and Product Use; Remote Collaboration Using Microsoft Teams; Viral Advice: Keep your Distance — Is Your Technology Prepared For Work From Home Operations?; and Disaster Financial Assistance Relief for Law Firms. Scheduled for April 7 is Reaching Resolution in a Remote Revolution — Remote Mediation Do’s, Don’ts, and Best Practices.

The OCBA set up an ad hoc committee to provide information and answer questions about COVID-19 resources. That resulted in an April 3 CLE, Legal Implications of COVID-19 for Your Law Practice, which covered recent federal legislation and other federal, state, and local resources.

The Florida Defense Lawyers Association had an April 2 webinar on Cybersecurity Risks of Remote Lawyers and Employees. It’s upcoming free offerings include: April 9, from noon to 1 p.m., Tips for Becoming a Productive (and Happier) Remote Worker [https://zoom.us/webinar/register/1815857769985/WN_o8kxuCGaT5ejuLDfuMp0Tw]; and April 23 from noon to 1 p.m., Handling Cases Remotely When “Home Alone” [https://zoom.us/webinar/register/1915857771672/WN_vZH5zM57SEewHtvztl7Riw].

The JBA is offering a Mental Health Triage seminar on April 25.

(Jeff Doran of the Bar’s Public Information and Bar Services Department compiled the webinar and other information for this story.)

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