Want to have an in-person event again? It’s all about organization and risk management. Just ask the West Virginia State Bar Association.
It’s spring. A time for rebirth. And slowly, ever so slowly, people are getting back together, coming out of their caves bleary-eyed. And while some organizations are beginning to THINK about returning to in-person live meetings and conferences, one organization has already done it.
On April 10-12 at the Greenbrier resort in Lewisburg, West Virginia, the West Virginia State Bar Association became the first state bar to return to in-person meetings. (For that matter, I haven’t heard of any legal tech organizations having live events yet).
I’m a member of the West Virginia bar (albeit inactive). I have to admit when I got the notice of the Annual Meeting, I had to check it several times to make sure that it was indeed alive and not virtual.
It went great!
Some health issues in my family precluded me from attending. So I was curious how it went. I recently talked with Anita Casey, who is the State Bar Association’s Executive Director, about just this issue. In three words, according to Casey, “It went great!”
The business meetings of the association were held in large ballrooms that enabled distancing. The annual reception was held in a large room inside and an adjoining space outside. Most of those inside wore masks; most of those outside did not. (The CDC on April 27, 2021 declared masks aren’t necessary outside). The CLE sessions were also held in an ample space.
Attendance at the sit-down annual banquet dinner had to be capped due to the room’s size. According to Casey, the only hitch was related to the Banquet since some who wanted to attend weren’t able to.
Attendees were required to wear masks when moving around the facility. And sit 6 feet apart. While sitting in rooms, mask-wearing was optional. Attendees were required to conform to all state mandates. The Greenbriar staff all wore masks at all times. Food at all sessions was served on plates. No buffets. Since convention business is a little down at the Greenbriar right now, there was plenty of space. Social distancing was not a problem.
The CLE sessions drew almost record numbers for the Greenbriar location.
Casey told me that it was a little hard to compare attendance to past annual meetings since the location alternates between Charleston, West Virginia and the Greenbriar. So the last meeting at the Greenbriar was in 2019. As you might expect, it’s cheaper to attend the Charleston meeting, so that tends to draw a slightly different crowd. Still, Casey told me that the CLE sessions drew almost record numbers for the Greenbriar location. Total attendance for the meeting: 227!
I asked her the obvious question: were people happy to be back together in person. She laughed, “They were ecstatic. People came out of the woodwork.”
I wondered whether there was an option for virtual attendance at the meeting (the proverbial hybrid approach). Casey told me the Bar decided not to offer a virtual component mainly because of cost concerns. The Bar’s experience with a hybrid was that the audio and visual requirements to enhance the virtual portion were cost prohibitive. Hotels and conference centers just charge so much. The equipment needed so comprehensive that it isn’t practical to pay for the facility and the equipment required.
Casey told me that Bar offerings would be all virtual or all live, at least for the foreseeable future. I have written previously about the practical problems with hybrid proceedings. While many claim hybrid will be the future, I am not so sure. All speakers were live.
The decision turned out to be prescient since, for a long time, West Virginia led the nation in percentage of its population vaccinated.
I talked to Casey about how the Bar made the somewhat bold decision to move forward with a live event in April. She told me the decision was actually made in January when the vaccine was just rolling out. But the Board felt confident enough with those in charge of the vaccine rollout and coordination in West Virginia. The Board decided to move forward unanimously.
The decision turned out to be prescient since, for a long time, West Virginia led the nation in the percentage of its population vaccinated. She pointed out that if her team were in another state where the vaccination program was less well defined, the decision would have probably been different.
It was all about organization and risk management
The meeting went off without a hitch, says Casey. “It was all about organization and risk management.” Simple advice for future event planners. And hope for the future. Thanks, West Virginia, for showing us that live events are possible again.