By all measures, the Johnson County (Kan.) Bar Association was doing quite well in providing in-person CLE to its 1,300 members in 2019.
“We were meeting our financial goals and the number of CLEs every year. It wasn’t a broken system,” says the bar’s executive director, Tracey DeMarea. “But as soon as we were in [COVID-19] lockdown, I had to pivot, and we did. Successfully.”
A year after scrapping live events, DeMarea—who, pre-pandemic, had never used Zoom—led the creation and distribution of 18 virtual CLE meetings over five days for the bar’s first-ever remote bench-bar conference this past spring. “It was so well attended. It was awesome,” she says.
Despite technology and marketing challenges—and a bit of fear—early on, the bar has since recovered and now surpassed pre-pandemic levels for CLE income and attendance, DeMarea says. The virtual programming has helped her connect with members she hadn’t interacted with much previously—those who, as it turns out, prefer this format because it better fits into their lives and the way they want to learn.
“Because of this,” she notes, “we’re upgrading and installing advanced IT into the bar office, so our CLEs will be both in person and streaming live.”
While “Zoom fatigue” and the yen for in-person programming are real, so are the benefits that many are seeing with virtual programming. Among them: better attendance, more convenient and economical program offerings, greater collaboration among bars and other nonprofits, and increased networking and program opportunities outside of CLE. Although the shift to virtual CLE was less seamless for some bars, particularly those lacking equipment and technology skills, what began as an emergency measure has proven to be a solid strategy. DeMarea is not alone in saying the virtual format is a big part of the future she’s planning for CLE—regardless of what happens with COVID-19.