The Virtual Board Meeting

By Scott Karson and Hank Greenberg

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How NYSBA pulled off our first virtual board meeting, passed groundbreaking reports and brought together a record number of delegates to participate.

We did not cancel.

As New York was the hardest hit state of the coronavirus pandemic, it would have been very easy to postpone our April House of Delegates (HOD) meeting or cancel it altogether.

But last June the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) launched an all-out effort to complete construction of a ‘Virtual Bar Center’ – a digital platform where attorneys across the street and around the world are just a click away on their computer or smartphone from accessing NYSBA’s services and benefits. Just a few weeks before our April 4 meeting, we launched a new website and new database to improve our technology and outreach to members. Our HOD meeting demonstrated the power and potential of that vision.

Through Zoom, we brought together 207 members of the association’s governing body virtually, the highest number of HOD participants in NYSBA’s recent history.

It took a number of dry runs, some calls to our firm’s remote IT staff to enable webcams, and a lot of patience, but here’s how we did it.

We used the same Zoom webinar platform to handle the meeting that we use for our Continuing Legal Education (CLE) online programs. Our staff worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth meeting by thoroughly testing the polling features, appropriately handling presenters and attendees, and addressing how delegates could ask questions virtually.

To do this, we made our officers and scheduled presenters “panelists” on the webinar. Any presenter who needed training did a practice session with our staff prior to the meeting to get comfortable with the technology. All other delegates were required to register prior to the webinar as attendees. This ensured that only panelists were heard on the webinar and attendees were automatically muted.

If attendees wanted to speak on a particular report, they could use the “Raise Your Hand” feature and NYSBA staff gave them temporary panelist rights. Staff also monitored any questions in the “Q & A” feature. Often, members answered questions for other members.

At the meeting, NYSBA adopted three groundbreaking reports that recommend toughening the New York bar exam, encouraging lawyers to practice in rural areas and making New York more attractive for the testing of autonomous vehicles. The meeting went flawlessly and we were especially encouraged to see delegates from northern and western New York State participate.

Within hours of our meeting, we had emails from bar associations across the country asking how we did it. We have provided guidance to the Pennsylvania Bar Association on virtual meetings and have helped the American Bar Association prepare for its virtual House of Delegates meeting this summer. Our June House of Delegates meeting, traditionally held in Cooperstown, also will be virtual.

Although we look forward to the day when we return to in-person events, we are so pleased that we were able to use technology and bring members together to pass reports that improve the justice system.

Karson is the president and Greenberg is immediate past president of the New York State Bar Association.

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