Those who lobby for bar associations will tell you that face-to-face meetings with lawmakers or their staffs are a key part of making your case on a particular issue, or demonstrating your expertise so that you can be called on when decision makers have questions. Those meetings are a big impetus for events such as ABA Day in Washington, when delegations from around the country come to Washington, D.C., to meet with their elected representatives.
So what do you do when you're the ABA, and Congress has shut down office buildings because of the coronavirus pandemic, six weeks before the in-person event you've been planning since last October?
"We made the decision to switch to a completely digital event," says Holly O'Grady Cook, director of the ABA Governmental Affairs Office. On March 12, she recalls, it was announced that Congress would be closed to the public temporarily, and on March 13, the switch to an online-only event was approved.
"It was before we had signed most of our contracts,” Cook notes. “Without knowing when Congress would be open again, we asked ourselves whether we should invest in an in-person event that might not happen."
Cook's team had previously decided to add digital components as a complement to the in-person portion of ABA Day, which was to be held April 22-23. They had planned some panel discussions and online advocacy early on, "but we knew we couldn't divert anyone's attention from the in-person D.C. event," she says. That all changed when the pandemic took hold.
While the medium changed, and the name changed to ABA Day Digital, the date remained the same, and so did the issues that were selected as the focus: Legal Services Corporation funding; access to legal services for homeless veterans; preserving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program; and increasing rural areas' access to broadband.
Those who visited the page—which was open to anyone who wanted to attend—were also able to view presentations and panel discussions on the ABA insideWashington Twitter page. Some programs featured video portions. Most of the videos were pre-recorded well before the event, but one on the second day had a segment that was recorded the night before, which led to at least one stressful moment, Cook says.
"We started uploading it at 11:30 for a 1:00 event. At 1:00, it still hadn't finished loading,” she explains. “There is some benefit to not trying to load a video the day you want to show it."