Adapting Our Section and Practices to the New Reality

By Rick Conner 

“There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.” – Theodore Roosevelt

In January, when I began to think about my plans and goals for my term as Chair of the NCBA Litigation Section, I had no idea that COVID-19 would pull the rug out from under me.

The worldwide pandemic unfortunately means that at least for this year, we can’t continue our popular networking socials, group attendance at sporting events, and in-person CLEs. The NCBA recently indicated that no in-person events may be planned for the remainder of the Bar Year (ending June 30, 2021).

All of our lives and law practices have been disrupted to some extent. Courts have been closed, trials have been postponed, motion hearings are taking place virtually, and our clients are suffering financial hardship. Many of us are struggling to make ends meet and take care of children while working from home. Some of our families have unfortunately been directly impacted by the virus through illnesses and even death.

In addition, we have seen racial injustice, social unrest, natural disasters, and the politics of an election year only add to the chaos. It’s a stressful time for sure.

Like all good litigators must do, however, we are adapting to the changed circumstances. If our kids can learn how to attend school virtually, then, surely, we can adapt our legal practices as well.

The Litigation Section is also adapting. In June, we produced a 1-hour CLE on depositions by videoconference, and used Section funds to make this free to the first 200 attendees.

The Section Council is meeting virtually by Zoom, and we are planning socially distant networking events. Some ideas being considered include yoga sessions, trivia nights, Zoom networking sessions with breakout rooms, cooking classes, comedy night, and even drive-in movies. If you have your own ideas, or would like to volunteer your talents as a host for a virtual event, please reach out and let me know, or contact our Membership Committee – Chris Battles, Melissa Tulis, and Rick Pinto.

We had hoped to host a trial boot camp CLE at our annual meeting at the Bar Center in May 2021, and we are now exploring whether it would be feasible to hold that program virtually. Look for more news on that program, and potentially other short programs, in the coming months from our CLE Committee Chairs – Matt Van Sickle, Audrey Snyder, and Hayley Wells.

Pro Bono Committee Chairs Will Quick and Matt Krueger-Andes are exploring opportunities that would offer our members a chance to fulfill their professional responsibilities and serve the public, all while keeping a safe distance from each other. The Bar Foundation hosted three COVID-19 Legal Hotlines (all done remotely) in May and June. Our Section also partnered with Legal Aid of North Carolina on the COVID-19 Eviction Assistance Project to help clients who are facing eviction as a result of pandemic-related economic disruption.

Our members also continue to serve the needs of low-income residents through NC Free Legal Answers, a web-based program. Volunteers with Lawyers for Literacy are creating video “Storytimes” aimed at providing elementary school students with high quality civic education content and mentoring.

Our Communications Committee, led by PJ Puryear, Tandy Mathis, and Adam Banks, has used our Section blog to provide timely updates on the latest court news, including the Chief Justice’s orders on statutes of limitation, court closures, courthouse procedures, and trials. If you have a blog post or article, COVID-19 related or not, that you think would be of interest to North Carolina litigators, please email the Communications Committee at NCBALitigation@gmail.com.

We also created a new Diversity Committee, tasked with working to identify and recruit diverse candidates for Council membership (based on gender, race, nationality, age, sexual orientation, etc.), and organizing or notifying the Section about educational and training opportunities on diversity, inclusion, and systemic racism. This new committee is being led by Helen Baddour and Le’Ron Byrd.

I am honored to be able to serve as your Section Chair this year, and I hope we can all help each other adapt our practices to pandemic life. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to discuss your ideas or concerns, or to volunteer your service to the Council! You can reach me at rconner@mcguirewoods.com or 704-343-2137.