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October 09, 2020 Judicial Division

Director's Column

By Tori J. Wible, Chicago, IL

I’m a glass half-full kind of person, I always have been. This year, however, has been a test of my ability to see the good. But it’s been there!

The Judicial Division started the year with a 34 percent revenue cut. The JD Leadership made lemonade by coming together, agreeing to reductions in the subsidies to the Conferences; supporting the staff through very difficult layoffs; creating a Sustainability Committee to increase non-dues revenue; successfully moved the Spring Planning Meeting to the ABA Midyear Meeting; moving publications online (increasing readership); creating and planning a new twice-yearly, stand-alone meeting-The Bench Bar Academy; and launching a first-ever Virtual Expo with nearly 700 registrants and nine vendors new to the Judicial Division. (That reminds me, I’m out of toffee.)

The biggest opportunity for change has obviously been the impact of the Corona Virus pandemic. The staff of the American Bar Association (over 900 people in the US and around the globe) made the switch from “let us know if you’d like to work from home” to “mandatory work from home” over a weekend as the infection rates soared. The JD staff had been working remotely one day a week for quite a while, so everyone had the home technology all squared away. For staff, one silver-lining was no more commute. JD Staff gained between one and three hours a day, not to mention eliminating the expense of commuting, whether that was train tickets or parking fees. The ABA had already added Teams to the Microsoft package, so communication was easier. In addition, the process to replace the old conference call system with Zoom was nearly complete before the work from home mandate. For the JD staff, the shift was by and large, a positive experience.

The virus presented the JD with another opportunity for expansion. The members, under Justice Lang-Miers and all the Conference Chairs, more than met the challenge. The JD produced nearly triple the number of free and for-fee webinars and programs and the attendance of those programs was astonishing. Attendance went from an average of 17 (JD has many more aftermarket sales) to an average of 315. The topics were wide-ranging but focused on how to help judges adjust to remote hearings and eventually trials. Justice Lang Miers joined the ABA’s Pandemic Task Force and led the Court Processes subcommittee.

Of course, no epic year like 2020 would be complete without another teaching moment. The country’s hard look at systemic racism gave the ABA and the JD the opening to focus on implicit bias, diversity, and inclusion. Following the Labor and Employment Law Section’s lead, the JD has kicked off the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. Under Judge J. Michelle Childs’ leadership, this program provides daily readings, podcasts, and other resources, as well as bi-weekly opportunities to discuss the issues together on Zoom.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. We’ve lost people we cared about; we’ve struggled with daycare, home schooling, and eldercare, we’ve moved households; we’ve had technology problems; some of us have struggled with isolation; and we’ve all done our best to deal with the unknown. Through it all, the ABA, the JD Leadership, and the JD Staff have found the silver linings and opportunities. I fully expect that we will continue to do so, and as I recently heard on a podcast, we won’t reach for normal, we’ll reach for better.

Tori Jo Wible

Tori Jo Wible

ABA Judicial Division Director