How Technology Helped NYSBA Thrive During COVID-19

By Brandon Vogel

Scott Karson

The power of technology – the virtual bar center – has allowed NYSBA to reach and support its members during this “challenging year.”

This was the overarching message delivered by President Scott Karson to the House of Delegates today.

“Public health and safety may prevent us from being together in Albany, but it has not prevented us from continuing to gather to adopt policy, hear updates from distinguished members of the bench and bar and carry on the business of the association,” said Karson.

Karson discussed how technology had kept NYSBA members in touch and allowed NYSBA to serve members through virtual fall meetings, networking events and informational programming. The April and June House of Delegates meetings both had more than 200 attendees. The 2021 Annual Meeting will be held virtually in January over two weeks.

“We do look forward to the day that we can again gather in person, and to the collegiality and warmth that these in-person gatherings bring,” Karson said.

While technology has been vital to steering the legal profession during COVID-19, Karson acknowledged the toll that the pandemic has taken on lawyers.

“Rates of mental illness, fatigue, substance abuse and stress, already high for attorneys, risk rising even higher in these uncertain times,” said Karson. “Yet we cannot lose sight that we are all in this together and can rely on our colleagues for support, despite the pressures of separation and quarantine.”

In June, Karson established the Task Force on Attorney Well-Being, which is developing a report and recommendations to advance an innovative and comprehensive culture of wellness across all levels of the legal profession.

“These efforts will help improve the quality of life and legal practice for all members of the bar, from law students and young associates to senior partners and practitioners planning for retirement,” Karson said. The task force holds weekly support group meetings on Thursday via Zoom that any NYSBA member can attend.

Technology allowed NYSBA to help the public with pro bono service through its online Pro Bono Network. A frequent pro bono volunteer himself, Karson noted that, since May, pro bono attorneys have helped more than 2,000 New Yorkers with unemployment insurance and small estates Surrogate’s Court matters.

“I am excited to announce that NYSBA and its Committee on Veterans will soon launch a new pro bono initiative to help those who were discharged from military service for reasons such as sexual orientation, gender identity, PTSD, or traumatic brain injuries, access certain state veterans benefits,” Karson said.

Technology also figures in to the association’s legislative priorities. Funding the expansion of broadband access nationwide is one of NYSBA’s top legislative priorities for 2021.

“The crisis has made it abundantly clear that broadband access not only expands access to justice but facilitates telehealth, remote education and connects rural communities with the virtual world,” Karson said.

Other priorities include an increase in the rate of compensation for attorneys who provide mandated representation, a reorganization of the ‘byzantine courts system;’ the provision of legal representation for persons in immigration matters and reform of New York State’s parole system.

Through virtual public hearings and Zoom meetings, NYSBA members continue to respond to the latest developments in law and policy through President Karson’s initiatives. “The members of our sections and committees are hard at work as well addressing pertinent legal issues,” he said. He gave these examples:

  • The Task Force on Racial Injustice and Police Reform will continue its important work in examining the disproportionate impact of police brutality on persons of color.
  • The Task Force on Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care is examining the tragic effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the residents and families of those who lived in community settings.
  • The recently-formed Task Force on COVID-19 Immunity and Liability is hard at work reviewing the tort and contractual issues arising from the COVID-19 public health crisis.
  • The Task Force on Free Expression in the Digital Age is finalizing its review of the threat technology poses to local news organizations.
  • The Task Force on the Presidential Election will continue to advise as our state and nation navigate through the most important election of our lifetimes.

Karson concluded by saying, “Friends, it is the greatest honor of my professional life to serve as the 123rd President of the New York State Bar Association. I look forward to continuing this work and to the day that we can all soon see each other again.”

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