President’s Column: Tackling Social Disengagement in Covid-Era Law Practice

Clarence Webster

Article by Clarence Webster 2021 - 2022 CABA President

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For years, I have enjoyed the myriad professional and personal benefits the Capital Area Bar Association provides to its membership. I have received far more value from CABA than it has from me. The collegiality, the opportunity to network with lawyers and judges with diverse experiences and expertise, and the chance to give back to the profession and the community have been invaluable to my development as an attorney. I am honored to serve as President of Mississippi’s largest and most active local bar association this year.

For good or ill, we are all aware the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the legal profession. Advances in remote-work technology have made it easier for us to practice from the comfort of our homes, giving us more flexibility to juggle our work and life obligations. But this development has significantly accelerated what I perceive as our profession’s increasing disengagement from the social aspects of law practice – happy hours with friends to discuss the scuttlebutt on who is transitioning to a new job or handling a controversial piece of litigation, office conferences with colleagues to discuss a sticky legal issue, or bar conferences and events to interact with lawyers with whom we do not customarily cross paths.

CABA was not immune from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Past presidents, Chancellor Tiffany Grove and Jennie Eichelberger, masterfully navigated the organization through more than a year of virtual events and limited in-person engagement, while staying connected with the membership and raising significant sums for the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. But due to COVID, we — especially newly admitted lawyers — have not had an opportunity to fully enjoy all that CABA has to offer, especially engagement with other legal professionals.

To that end, the goal of the Board of Directors and our committee chairs this year is to hold all CABA events in person while taking the necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of our members. We also want to continue to engage with members who cannot participate in person. At a minimum, to the extent possible, CABA will provide virtual options for CLEs and lunches – CLE credit and lunch are free for all our members. In addition to our membership meetings, CABA will hosts several social events, including Bar-Review Happy Hours, to provide rich opportunities for networking and fellowship. Our annual Christmas party will take place at Char Restaurant on December 2, 2021 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

CABA will also continue to provide multiple opportunities to give back to the capital area through pro-bono work. During Pro Bono Week, the Community Outreach Committee will co-sponsor a pro bono legal clinic with MVLP at the Hinds County Chancery Courthouse. The last legal clinic, which took place on July 30, 2021, was well-attended, and no one seeking legal services was turned away. We hope to have similar participation in October.

All that said, the health and safety of our membership is paramount. We will remain flexible and responsive on hosting in-person events given the status of the pandemic. Unfortunately, we had to cancel this year’s Fall Social due, in part, to state and federal guidance regarding large, in-person events. We will continue to follow that guidance going forward.

The Board remains committed to making CABA even more valuable to its membership. We welcome your thoughts and ideas. More importantly, I am personally soliciting your participation. The bulk of CABA’s work takes place at the committee level. We have a dynamic group of committee chairs who are excited about returning to in-person events, but we need your help. A list of committees is available on our website. Call or email a committee chair, an officer, a board member, or our executive director, Jane Harkins, to volunteer.

Please mark your calendar and plan to attend our next membership meeting on October 19, 2021, at the Capitol Club. The Small Firm/Solo-Practitioner Committee will hold its first in a series of CLE presentations.

Thank you for being a member of CABA. I appreciate what you have done, and will continue to do, to help CABA make a difference in our profession and community.