From the Multnomah Lawyer: Building Community in a Post-Pandemic World

I still remember one of the first Multnomah Bar Association events I attended when I moved back to Portland to practice law. We were at the downtown Kells location, with the downstairs room packed full of lawyers dressed in suits and dresses. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the constant chatter and the crowd. There were so many unfamiliar faces. Then I specifically remember Valerie Colas, at the time on the board of the Young Lawyers Section, introducing herself to me and during our chat, she encouraged me to get involved with the YLS. To this day, I remember her warmth and the genuine connection I felt from her, the MBA staff, and other members.

Much has changed in our world since that memory. Thanks to Valerie’s leadership as president, we were able to adapt quickly to the unchartered territories brought forth by the pandemic that put a pause to in-person events like the above. Like many companies and organizations, the MBA pivoted to virtual events to support and connect with our members over the past year. Personally, Ibenefited greatly from the MBA Midsized Firm Partner Roundtable meetings, where I learned how other firms were navigating changing environments and keeping employees engaged.

We live in uncertain and perilous times. Even with the protection of vaccines, the aftershocks of COVID-19 are here to stay. Various inequities in our society, highlighted by the pandemic, remain unresolved. It is disheartening how COVID-19 disproportionally put people of color at greater risk, as they are more likely to live in crowded conditions and work in service jobs that cannot be done remotely, among other factors. Even for those fortunate to work remotely, COVID-19 challenged our mental health. Parents were further strained trying to juggle work along with childcare and remote schooling (which, thanks to the hard work of former president Sarah Radcliffe, we have been learning more from the Working Caregivers Legal Profession Survey conducted by the MBA and OWLS). It is important for our community to recognize the challenges faced by various demographics to strengthen our professionalism and empathy.

Together, we must learn how to embrace our societal changes to move forward and build our community. For instance, an unresolved topic is how to safely “reopen” or conduct in-person events. Not everyone is comfortable or ready yet. As we continue to adapt to the “new normal,” our profession will need to learn how to incorporate our virtual world with our physical world. The pandemic has demonstrated that we as lawyers can conduct a fair number of events virtually. Many started to question - do we really need allthat facetime? Of course, it can be harder to develop camaraderie virtually. Yet, the upside to virtual events is that they level the playingfield by providing opportunities to individuals who otherwise could not participate. These individuals might include parents with young children who need the flexibility offered by virtual meetings or individuals with longer commutes. Sometimes, virtual meetings - done right and with intention - can provide more opportunities for members to meet new individuals through breakout rooms, instead of the default to sticking to the same group of people at an event (which I have been guilty of doing). Suffice to say, even when the pandemic is over, a mix of virtual meetings and events should continue to allow that flexibility and inclusivity. Do not worry though, I am still very much hoping the MBA can safely start hosting in-person events soon.

Indeed, it is my hope that all members find the MBA to be as welcoming a community as it has been to me, regardless of the format. More than ever, we strive for innovative approaches, fresh ideas, and strong voices. That is why this year I will be hosting a Virtual Listening Session every month in which you can ask me any questions about the MBA, share any concerns or suggestions you have, or just have someone to chat with. These chats will occur on the third Wednesday of every month, from 2 to 3 p.m., with the first one happening on September 15. If you prefer meeting one-on-one or in person, please do not hesitate to contact me regarding how the MBA can improve or better provide value to its members. In return, I promise to engage in mindful listening, accept feedback with grace, and follow through. I hope to see you virtually during one of my chats and I hope in person in the near future.

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