Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.
The year 2020 – no one can debate these were “bad times” in many ways. But, can we be “good learners” in the words of the poet Emerson? Yes, it would seem this is certainly within our power – since, for the first time in history, technological advancements have enabled us to continue our lives in the eWorld. The “eWorld” is a term I use to describe the virtual or electronic world of our modern age – where we live on Facebook, Instagram, Zelle, PayPal, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and similar platforms. In fact, do you know what the No. 1 downloaded free app was for 2020, according to Apple? Zoom. That’s right, and apparently Zoom did not even make it into the Top 20 in 2019. Now, though, attorney-client conferences, physician-patient examinations, teacher-student classes, professional-professional meetings, person-person dating, friend-friend socializing and so much more are taking place online. “In April, Zoom said more than 300 million people were participating in video meetings on the platform each day.”
In 2021, as if the embodiment of Emerson’s very words from 160 years ago, attorneys and judges from around the nation and world, especially those who are admitted to practice in New York State and are members of the venerable New York State Bar Association, can assert that the pandemic will not slow our profession. They can be “good learners” at NYSBA’s Virtual Annual Meeting 2021. Although usually held in person for one week in New York City, the 2021 Annual Meeting will be held virtually over a two-week period. Countless continuing legal education seminars will be held, on topics so numerous and exhaustive it is not possible to mention each individually in this space, while Sections and committees will hold meetings of their members to discuss the issues of our day. NYSBA’s 123rd President, Scott M. Karson, Esq., will convene a thought-provoking Presidential Summit, continuing his able leadership during this pandemic year. And then there are the social events! For those who will miss the Hilton Midtown’s Bridges Bar, 2021’s Annual Meeting will include a virtual piano bar on January 27 during the President’s Reception. Yes, you read that correctly! This is an opportunity to network with friends and colleagues, while sipping your favorite beverage and listening to wonderful music – all from the comfort and safety of your home. If all of this is still not enough, the Bar Association’s planners have a general reception scheduled for January 22, in addition to a virtual trivia competition, awards receptions, yoga and nutrition programs and other events in the works. And, while members are attending the various programming via Zoom, the platform’s ubiquitous chat function will be available for a further sense of camaraderie.
I don’t know about you, but what I often hear at some point during the now seemingly endless Zoom and other virtual meetings in which I participate every day is talk of the “silver lining.” Not that this is the end of business and society as we know it, but rather that technology is enabling better connections amongst people during this pandemic, and may even still in the coming post-COVID days, when technological networks could be retained to provide a better way for people to remain connected without the need for as much expensive travel, to allow for more productivity from home while attending to family or personal needs, to encourage more students to attend college even if they cannot always be present on campus, to permit greater financial savings for businesses not needing expansive real estate for their workforces, and to possibly contribute to an organization’s retention of members who might otherwise think they live too far from regular meeting sites to make active membership feasible.
There will be those who will say “2020 is not the same; these virtual meetings are just not the same.” They are correct, but not for the reasons they or you may think. True, 2020 is not the same as past years. True, virtual meetings are not the same as in-person meetings. Do we miss the handshakes, the hugs, the toasts, the gathering of 1,000 people under the Blue Whale at the Gala in the Museum of Natural History? Of course we do. But, does that mean virtual gatherings cannot be a source of prodigious information, great merriment and wonderful communication? This year’s Annual Meeting provides us a valuable occasion to turn adversity into opportunity. That opportunity: to network, learn, socialize and exchange ideas with colleagues and friends from around the state, the country and the world – particularly those who perhaps could not otherwise have flown in or driven in from their locale to attend an in-person meeting in Manhattan for only one or two meetings or days. Technology in our 2020-2021 eWorld is the gateway to actually bringing us together more than we expect, and perhaps more than we first recognize, until we approach it from a different perspective. This is a pandemic year, a year like no other in recent history, and that may well be the impetus for both change and “good learning.” “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.” See the roses.
Of course, there is one final important consideration to keep in mind – since this article is largely written for an audience of attorneys, judges and paralegals. As more and more economic, social and political traffic takes place online, ensure that your websites and electronic resources are created and utilized so that they do not run afoul of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Human Rights Law. Access for all is the mantra. Everyone should take advantage of the myriad benefits provided by the growing online world – including participation in an amazing two-week New York State Bar Association Annual Meeting, from January 19–29, 2021!
Michael L. Fox is Assistant Professor of Business Law and MBA Coordinator, Mount Saint Mary College, and an assistant adjunct professor of law at Columbia University School of Law. Prof. Fox is a member of the NYSBA House of Delegates and Chair of the NYSBA Committee on Communications and Publications. He is also a former Vice President for the 9th Judicial District and former member of the NYSBA Executive Committee.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson (American essayist, poet and philosopher), Considerations by the Way, The Conduct of Life (1860).
 See Michael L. Fox, Primer for an Evolving eWorld, pp. 197-198, 202-205 (Kendall Hunt Publ. Co., 2d ed. 2020).
 See Dawson White, What Were the Most Downloaded Apps of 2020? Number One Didn’t Make Top 20 Last Year, The Kansas City Star, Dec. 3, 2020, https://www.kansascity.com/news/nationworld/national/article247577910.html.
 Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (French critic, journalist, and novelist), A Tour Round My Garden (1855).
 See Michael L. Fox, A Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in the 21st Century Workplace, pp. 203-217 (N.Y.S. Bar Assoc. Publ., 2d ed. 2021); see also Virtual Lawyering: A Practical Guide, pp. 297-312 (N.Y.S. Bar Assoc. Publ. 2020).