June 08, 2020 The Chair’s Corner

What a Year It Was—and It Is Not Over Yet

Richard A. DeMichele Jr.

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Learn about the resources the GPSolo Division has developed to aid its members during the COVID-19 crisis.

Learn about the resources the GPSolo Division has developed to aid its members during the COVID-19 crisis.

martin-dm/E+ via Getty Images

When the bar year started for me in August 2019, I set out to make this a year like no other. I had spent countless hours working with GPSolo leadership and ABA staff to make this year different and a success for our members. Yes, there were challenges in the planning process and hard decisions were made. Those decisions involved a lot of time and consideration and were made by our leadership as a whole. I have vivid memories of the 2018 planning meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and how, at the end of the meeting, I was very optimistic for our coming success.

Our GPSolo leadership team started the year with confidence in our plan to grow our membership under what was an uncharted new ABA membership model, meet our budget, provide great programming and member benefits, and promote member connections. Based on member enthusiasm and our leadership’s commitment to execute, our confidence in the new year was justified. The meetings we had in San Francisco, Carlsbad, and Austin were all successful, with expanded programming, participation, and attendance. Our online content (who knew how important that would become?) under the new ABA membership model attracted many of our members, and its popularity was growing. Everything was progressing as planned, and my excitement for the Division’s Spring Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was mounting at a feverish pace. What could go wrong?

When I sought the position of GPSolo Chair, I knew it would involve tough decisions. I was prepared to lead and make those difficult decisions that I knew were on the horizon and also the unexpected tough calls. I was certain there would be difficult financial decisions that needed to be made on behalf of the Division. There were, and there still are. I was prepared to make the unforeseen decisions, too. You may recall our Division decided to change the location of our Spring Meeting from Bermuda to Puerto Rico for social/political reasons.

In January of this year, we started hearing rumblings of a virus in China. At first, it did not seem to be much of a concern. I was not planning on going to China anytime soon. In fact, in February I booked a flight to Cancún, Mexico, for the first week in April. In what seems like an eternity ago, I remember addressing the possibility of COVID-19 affecting our Spring Meeting with our staff and our Executive Committee. Our first discussion was along the lines of “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, but keep an eye on the situation.” That is what we did.

As the COVID-19 situation worsened across the globe, it became apparent that another unexpected decision had to be made: Should we cancel the Spring Meeting in Puerto Rico? This was a decision I was completely unprepared to make. I could not believe that there was a possibility of canceling the meeting, especially after so much time and preparation had gone into planning for its success. Ultimately, the Spring Meeting was canceled. It was a difficult and important decision that was made by our Executive Committee. The safety of our members was our paramount concern, but we also wanted a well-attended, successful meeting.

One of my valuable lessons learned from this pandemic is that difficult decisions are always best handled after consideration of multiple points of view and multiple experiences. That is exactly how our GPSolo leadership team operates. Our Executive Committee decided to cancel the Spring Meeting at a time when restaurants were still seating patrons, bars were still serving drinks, hotels were still accepting reservations, and airlines were still flying. In retrospect, canceling it was the right decision for a difficult problem.

This pandemic and nationwide shutdown have positive attributes. In a strange way, we’re presented with many opportunities. Our membership is constantly demonstrating their resilience and innovation. Let’s be honest with each other: How many of us had heard of Zoom in February 2020? How many of us had ever used Zoom before February 2020? Candidly, I heard of Zoom in October 2019, when a consultant I knew approached me about a technology platform that would allow me to video chat with clients while being able to simultaneously review documents. I quickly dismissed the idea of investigating this technology. I reasoned it was probably difficult to use, expensive, and would require an IT person to help me use it. At the time, I thought, thanks, but no thanks!

Our membership has given me a new perspective. We have been able to press on with the help of technologies like Zoom. We now use Zoom for leadership meetings, webinars, and, yes, even a weekly COVID-19 Roundtable (https://tinyurl.com/yahama9z). Our Zoom webinars and the COVID-19 Roundtable discussions are popular with our members and allow us to continue providing value to our members in our new remote society. If you have not participated in the COVID-19 Roundtable discussion, consider joining us on Thursdays. If you are wondering, you did read that correctly. I said, “join us!” I am now comfortable with Zoom and even, dare I say, a regular user. For more information on how you can participate in the COVID-19 Roundtable, e-mail the Division at gpsolo@americanbar.org. It truly is a great resource for solo and small firm lawyers looking to share ideas on how to better their practice in our “new world.” And it is a real-time testament to the positive attitude, resiliency, and creativity of our members.

I do not know when we will be back to “normal” again. I am not exactly sure what “normal” will look like. I do have many positive takeaways from our situation. I do know this world crisis has reinforced my belief that the best decisions are made after careful considerations of numerous diverse perspectives. I am reminded that “considerations of numerous diverse perspectives” is the hallmark of leadership. Most importantly, GPSolo members are bright and creative and possess a genuine can-do entrepreneurial spirit.

Stay safe.

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Richard A. DeMichele Jr. is Chair of the GPSolo Division. He is a shareholder with DeMichele & DeMichele P.C., a general practice firm in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, with an emphasis on family law, criminal law, and personal injury law.

Published in GPSolo, Volume 37,  Number 3, May/June 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.