by Deirdre M. Kelly
After the country was shut down due to COVID-19 in March of this year, OCBA President Scott Garner, undaunted, along with the OCBA staff and Board of Directors, immediately began developing plans to help OCBA members. Scott established the OCBA COVID-19 Task Force led by Dan Robinson, OCBA Treasurer, to determine what the OCBA could do to assist its lawyers during the pandemic. The task force quickly went to work and put together over 40 webinars in 8 months on topics critical to OCBA members, including practice tips for virtual practitioners, maintaining attorney well-being and civility, and the impact of COVID-19 on the courts, businesses, unity, law students, criminal practitioners, pro bono, and other areas. The results of these impressive efforts, along with the work of the OCBA’s committees, sections, divisions, and other task forces listed below, have helped enable lawyers to maintain and expand their practices and skills, as well as created a sense of community and emotional support during an isolating and uncertain time.
During this unprecedented year, the OCBA has been hard at work providing value to its members by helping lawyers with their practices and skills through events such as listservs, zoom webinars, trainings, meetings, and by bringing people together socially (virtually) so that they could lend support to each other. The OCBA has 15 affiliate bar associations, 26 sections, 23 committees, 7 task forces, 2 divisions, and the OCBA and OCBA Charitable Fund Boards of Directors. The depth and breadth of engagement by members did not decline during this time, it actually increased.
Since March of this year, when the OCBA began offering virtual programming, it has held over 175 webinars with over 18,000 registrations. The OCBA has certified 14,140 CLE Credits so far in 2020. This compares to 10,345 certified in the same timeframe last year—an impressive increase of 37%. The 18,000 registrations and 175 webinars does not include all of the virtual meetings that have been held for the various committees, boards, divisions, and task forces.
I would like to highlight the impressive work of a few of these groups this year.
Community Outreach Committee
Despite the pandemic, the Community Outreach Committee, led by Co-Chairs John Fujii and Jared De Jong, has been very productive this year. In February, committee members volunteered at the Mercy House Shelter. In early March, members volunteered at a mentoring event at the Orangewood Children and Family Center.
When the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person events, the Committee pivoted to virtual drives and food preparation events, completing four virtual drives. The first drive occurred in April and was for the collection and distribution of much needed PPE for frontline healthcare workers. The next drive was a virtual food drive in May to help feed those in need by partnering with the Orange County Food Bank, the Second Harvest Food Bank, and Caterina’s Club. The Committee then held an office supplies drive in June to help four local non-profit legal aid organizations: Community Legal Aid SoCal, Elder Law & Disability Rights Center, Public Law Center, and Veterans Legal Institute. The fourth drive in July was for pool supplies and pool toys for the children at the Orangewood Children and Family Center.
In addition to these four virtual drives, the Community Outreach Committee has now completed three food preparation events since July. In July, members cooked dinner for the residents of the Precious Life Shelter in north Orange County. The Committee followed that up in September by cooking dinner for the residents of the Friendship Shelter in south Orange County. A few weeks ago, the Committee held a lunch bag event where OCBA members prepared 300 lunches and donated several cases of water, Gatorade, snacks, baby wipes, pet food, gift cards, and backpacks packed with food. The items went to unhoused people in Anaheim, Buena Park, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, San Clemente, and Stanton.
As the year comes to a close, the Community Outreach Committee is planning another dinner preparation event and lunch bag event, as well as working on a Thanksgiving meal preparation event.
The OCBA Masters Division maintained a particularly active listserv during the pandemic to date. Members stepped up to answer the call for pro bono services and for office supplies to the nonprofit legal services organizations supported by the OCBA, in addition to rallying to provide food and donations to the needy clients served by those organizations. The members of the Masters Division also came to the aid of their colleagues in a number of ways, including multiple offers of assistance and referrals for a senior lawyer with health problems who needed a caregiver, and for clients dealing with the impacts on their personal and professional lives due to the pandemic. One member even offered, very early on, the assistance of his adult son to do shopping for vulnerable senior lawyers. The members also provided information to one another about navigating the changes to access to the courts; accessing the benefits of the PPP; negotiating with landlords; and dealing with the other practice-related challenges brought about by COVID-19. Judge Gail A. Andler (Ret.), 2020 Chair of the Masters Division, said, “I am very proud to have had the privilege of being Chair during this year so that I could witness, firsthand, the generosity and humanity of our members.”
Young Lawyers Division
The Young Lawyers Division, led by Alex Avery, is home base for many new lawyers in Orange County. The YLD hosted webinars for its members and kept its ear to the ground for job opportunities. YLD members strengthened bonds with each other as reality set in that the shutdown would continue through summer. They exchanged tips on developing their skills and practice, working from home efficiently, and staying healthy (physically and mentally). Members also identified coping mechanisms and shared new hobbies and better habits that will foster a more fulfilling lifestyle post-COVID. Having experienced these difficult times together, they gained confidence that their colleagues will be there to lean on throughout their careers, and they will give back to the Orange County legal community by continuing to support each other as well as future generations of new lawyers.
OCBA Charitable Fund
The OCBA’s philanthropic arm, the Charitable Fund, raises money for local legal related charities. Over the past several years, the Charitable Fund (along with the OCBA’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service) has raised and donated approximately $3 million to local pro bono legal providers and legal related charities such as Public Law Center, Community Legal Aid of SoCal, Veteran’s Legal Institute, the Collaborative Courts Foundation, the Constitutional Rights Foundation of OC, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Elder Law and Disability Rights Center, Project Youth, Human Options, Laura’s House, Women’s Transitional Living Center, the Bette and Wylie Aitken Family Protection Clinic, UCI Law School’s Saturday Academy of Law and Pre-Law Outreach Program, OC GRIP Foundation, Orange County Justice Fund, California Youth Connection and others.
The OCBA Charitable Fund puts on two major fundraisers each year, the Annual Wine Tasting event and the Judge Kenneth Lae Charity Golf Scramble. Despite the pandemic, the Charitable Fund persisted and was able to hold both events, albeit differently than in past years. The Wine Tasting event, co-chaired by OCBA and Charitable Fund Past President, Nikki Miliband, and newly elected OCBA Secretary, Christina Zabat-Fran, became a virtual event held at the end of May with acclaimed host of the Wine Show, Amelia Singer. It was a fun way to raise money for a good cause, as well as a way for members to socialize virtually at the beginning of the pandemic.
The golf tournament, led by OCBA board member James Pack and Christopher Ross, was held on October 19 at Pelican Hill and was also a resounding success, raising money for the legal related charities at the same time as allowing members to enjoy themselves on the golf course from a safe social distance. I have had the pleasure of being President of the Charitable Fund this year and look forward to giving out the money raised to our grantees at our grant giving reception in February 2021.
State Bar Task Force
The State Bar of California has continued in its quest to create working groups to set the criteria to allow non-attorneys to practice law in certain practice areas, to allow non-attorneys to have ownership interests in law firms, and to permit fee splitting with non-lawyers, as well as allowing artificial intelligence or other similar platforms to provide direct legal advice and services to the public without attorney input or assistance. Accordingly, the OCBA’s State Bar Task Force, led by OCBA past president Nikki Miliband, has been diligently following the ever-changing proposals and changes and has been providing public comment to the State Bar on many of these proposals due to the potential for public harm. The OCBA has also made a concerted effort to keep its members informed of these looming changes so that individuals can also make public comment. The OCBA will continue to monitor the ongoing situation, provide public comment when necessary, and will also make sure to work with OCBA members to inform them how these changes may affect the practice of law in California and how to navigate this new landscape.
Racial Justice Task Force
The Racial Justice Task Force (RJTF) was created by Scott Garner, following the tragic death of George Floyd and other African Americans, to provide a forum to discuss and address racial injustices and to work towards meaningful change. The RJTF is chaired by OCBA President-Elect Larisa Dinsmoor and OCBA Past President Dimetria A. Jackson. The RJTF, which includes representatives from affiliate and affinity bar associations, presented an enlightening and informative virtual town hall entitled Untold Stories: Our Black Colleagues Unmasked in July. The RJTF is currently planning its next town hall on Allyship in Action that will provide actionable items for those who seek to support marginalized groups and challenge the status quo of racial inequality; compiling resources that address allyship, systemic racism, anti-racism, and other topics for inclusion on a RJTF webpage that will be located on the OCBA website; monitoring legislation; and working with law firms and law students to address diversity, equity, and inclusion. Please email the RJTF Chairs at RacialJusticeTaskForce@ocbar.org if you would like to get involved.
Almost before the shock from the pandemic and shutdown wore off, the OCBA dusted itself off, pulled itself up by its bootstraps, got back on the horse, and immediately went into action to help its members through this unparalleled crisis. The silver linings of this year have been the “can do” attitude of the OCBA and its members, including and especially the kindness and caring actions they have taken to help others.
Deirdre M. Kelly is 2020 President of the OCBA Charitable Fund, Immediate Past President of the OCBA, and the Assistant Dean of Career Development at Western State College of Law. She can be reached at DeirdreKelly@ocbar.org.