December 2020 Cover Story - OCBA Affiliate Bars Embrace the New Normal

by Michelle A. Philo

Membership in OCBA’s numerous affiliate bars includes opportunities for networking, continuing education, awards ceremonies, fundraisers, and annual dinners. There is much value placed on in-person events and the comradery that comes with being able to interact with professional colleagues on a regular basis. After a brief pause when faced with the pandemic, the affiliate bars quickly adapted to the new normal, offering new opportunities to their members.

Virtual Meetings: With the ease and accessibility of virtual platforms, all of the affiliate bars switched their board and committee meetings to video or phone conferences. Orange County Asian American Bar Association (OCAABA) enacted a temporary extension and expansion of their board, adding two directors to focus on a new COVID-19 committee to specifically address educational and social programming during the inability to hold in-person large gatherings.

Programs & Speakers: With video conferencing, organizations were able to bring in notable speakers from outside Orange County without having to front the costs for travel. For its virtual installation dinner, Orange County Korean American Bar Association (OCKABA) hosted Judge Lucy H. Koh, United Stated District Court, Northern District to serve as the keynote speaker. The Federal Bar Association Orange County Chapter (FBAOC) was able to host Judge Alan Albright, District Judge, Western District of Texas and Judge K. Nicole Mitchell, Magistrate Judge, Eastern District of Texas for a webinar on intellectual property.

The J. Reuben Clark Law Society was able to host programs with Judge Ryan D. Nelson of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Thomas B. Griffith (Ret.), formerly of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Orange County Women Lawyers Association (OCWLA) brought in Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (UC Berkeley School of Law) and Professor Laurie Levenson (Loyola Marymount University) to discuss the social and legal impacts of the Michael Flynn and George Floyd cases. OCAABA was able to host a webinar entitled “Pandemic, Protests, and Privilege: Our Role in Progress” with Hoyt Zia (Hawaii) and Paul Hirose (Los Angeles), both past presidents of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA).

Orange County Trial Lawyers Association (OCTLA) nearly doubled its CLE offerings, including offering programs on the up-to-date developments of the state of the civil court. OCAABA, OCWLA, and FBAOC also provided programming related to the pandemic, including addressing skills such as virtual mediations and depositions.

The Thurgood Marshall Bar Association (TMBA) hosted its annual Juneteenth scholarship celebration via Facebook Live. As the event was virtual, they were able to host two artists—Adrian Dunn (Arkansas) and Mac Royals (Los Angeles)—to perform at the event.

Collaboration With Other Bars: With virtual platforms, the affiliate bars were able to partner with other bars across the state and across the nation. The Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County (OCHBA) partnered with Hispanic bar associations across California to host Cathryn Rivera-Hernandez, Secretary of Appointments to Governor Gavin Newsom, for a presentation on the appointments process. OCWLA partnered with California Women Lawyers and state and local women’s bars across America for a one-hour tribute in honor of the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Social Events: There have been a flurry of social events such as a popular poker tournament hosted by OCAABA and wine tasting and bingo hosted by OCWLA. For Harvey Milk Day, the Orange County Lavender Bar Association (OCLBA) hosted a trivia challenge with participants from Orange County, San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and the Bay Area. The virtual nature of this event allowed people from different locations to participate during the middle of the workday. OCHBA utilized the virtual platform to continue its annual Toast to Mexico Independence Day, incorporating prizes for best virtual background and best outfit. The virtual element allowed member engagement for members of several organizations who were not able to previously participate. OCKABA hosted a virtual speed networking event that engaged members who had been unable to attend in the past due to commuting concerns. OCWLA’s popular Book Club included members who had moved out of the area and were able to participate again in virtual monthly programs.

Hinting at a Return to “Normal”: There is a hint of a return to normal on the horizon. OCTLA was able to host its annual Columbus Day Golf Tournament with a modified format and a revised after-party. Fundraisers and award ceremonies are currently being restructured to allow for the presentation of awards and development of fundraisers, combining virtual and in-person attendance as available at the time of the future event.

OCBA’s Affiliate Bars and their leaders have embraced the challenges of 2020. There have been numerous silver linings in terms of benefits for members, education, networking opportunities, and contributions to the greater Orange County legal community.


Michelle A. Philo is the President of Orange County Women Lawyers Association and the principal of Philo Law Firm, P.C. She would like to thank the leaders of all the Affiliate Bars who contributed information to this article.