When the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent in the spring of 2020, the member volunteers of the Bar Association of Erie County (N.Y.) sprang into action.
“We saw unprecedented engagement. It was fabulous,” says bar Executive Director Anne Noble. “Lawyers really understood the role that bar associations played, and that was really positive, both for getting people to volunteer to do things and for driving membership.
“We saw a lot of people get to know each other, albeit virtually, and emerge to become bar leaders, many that we hadn’t seen before.”
It didn’t last.
By fall 2021, with the COVID delta variant raging, the widespread omicron variant poised to strike, and many homebound members tiring from months of virtual meetings, volunteer involvement both inside and outside the 3,000-member bar was flagging.
Flash forward to February 2022, and Noble is seeing a spring renaissance of member volunteerism. “I’ve seen engagement that I haven’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” she says. “People willing to step up to the plate to organize events. People expressing a desire to get out and be part of events.”
The Erie bar’s COVID rollercoaster ride of member engagement is not unusual, many bar observers say. Although the quick pivot by many bars to virtual programming and events initially attracted increased attention—and member engagement—COVID and Zoom fatigue, a jump in retirements and increased workloads for many members have worn away some of those gains, they say.
Armed with lessons learned from the pandemic and plans for a slow move back toward in-person meetings and events, some bar leaders say they are optimistic that they can continue to attract and engage members—particularly some of those who are new or were previously not as involved in bar activities. Although the phrase “new normal” has quickly become cliché, they say, some old ways of approaching member activities will continue to fade, thanks to COVID.