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A Virtually Perfect MCBA Legal Conference

Stacked3Here is a recent Daily Record column. My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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A Virtually Perfect MCBA Legal Conference

More than a year has passed since the start of the pandemic and life has yet to return to any semblance of normal. Social distancing and mask requirements are still in place and interacting in person inside for lengthy amounts of time is inadvisable. That means that when it comes to legal conferences, virtual conferences are all we’ve got for now, for better or for worse.

Unfortunately, most remote conferences are boring. The reality is that virtual conferences fall flat and fail to replicate a feeling of true interaction and engagement. Instead, the experience typically feels very one dimensional, something that is further compounded by the fact that people are simply tired of videoconferencing day in and day out. Now that we’re more than a year into the pandemic, the traditional virtual conference simply feels like an extension of remote-working rather than a fun break from it.

The good news is that there’s a better option: avatar-based conferences. When you interact in this type of virtual environment, you’re able to become fully immersed in the experience. Avatar-based conferences are the next best thing to attending a conference in person because you can walk around the online campus, speak to people (using your computer’s microphone), interact in groups, meet up with people at different locations throughout the campus, go on boat rides, and much more.

Of course, if you’re not a gamer, I can imagine that as you’re reading this you’re a bit hesitant about the idea. Rest assured, you’re not the only one. When I pitched my idea to hold an avatar-based conference to the Monroe County Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm Conference planning committee, they were initially unsure about it and had a lot of questions. But eventually, with the support of the Bar Association’s forward-thinking Executive Director, Kevin Ryan, they agreed to give it a try and the conference occurred last week.

Needless to say, I think they made an incredibly smart decision by green lighting this idea. Because let’s face it: lawyers are suffering from Zoom fatigue,. While it would be ideal to get together in person, we can’t. And as we learned last week, an avatar-based conference in virtual environment is the next best thing.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the conference. It was held on a virtual campus leased from EDRM (Electronic Discovery and Reference Model), and was held over two days during the afternoons on April 8th and 9th.

The first session focused on getting everyone’s avatars set up. During that 30-minute session we ironed out a few technical issues for some of the participants, and then before we knew it, we were on our way!

After everyone had an opportunity to explore the virtual campus for a bit, we convened in the main auditorium for the Keynote from Heidi Alexander, Director of the Massachusetts SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being. She spoke about lessons learned during the pandemic and the future of law practice. Then, after a breakout networking session, we re-convened in the main auditorium and Jared Correia, the founder and CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, spoke about the impact of the pandemic on the practice of law and how lawyers could use their learnings to thrive in the “new normal.”

The last event of the day was a virtual wine tasting on the beach. We tasted three different wines from the award-winning Finger Lakes winery, Silver Thread Vineyard. The in-depth tasting was led by Shannon Brock, the winery owner and general manager, and everyone learned a lot about the wines we sampled, along with overall the Finger Lakes region wine-making experience.

The next afternoon we reconvened for Day 2 of the conference. Throughout the day there were two plenaries and two different breakout networking sessions. Attendees also had opportunities to visit the vendor hall, take breaks on the beach, go on virtual boat rides, visit the soccer field, travel to the top of the lighthouse, and explore other locations within the virtual campus.

And then, before we knew it, after another full day of networking and learning, the conference drew to a close. We said our goodbyes, hung up our virtual avatars, shut off our computers, and headed off into the weekend.

After speaking with many of the attendees, I’m happy to report that a fun time was had by all! We’d collectively tried something new and different by throwing caution to the wind and diving avatar-first into this conference; for that I couldn’t be more proud.

I left this experience feeling thankful for many things. First, I’m grateful for the cutting-edge technologies that have allowed us to remotely interact (in avatar-form no less!) and work throughout the course of the pandemic. Second, I’m appreciative of my trail-blazing colleagues who were willing to cast doubt aside and give this crazy idea a shot. And last but not least, I’m reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am to be a part of this tight knit, collegial legal community where a pioneering and innovative spirit is alive and well. 

Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York attorney, author, journalist, and the Legal Technology Evangelist at MyCase  law practice management software for small law firms. She is the author of the ABA book Cloud Computing for Lawyers, co-authors the ABA book Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier, and co-authors Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson Reuters treatise. She writes legal technology columns for Above the Law and ABA Journal and speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @nikiblack or email her at niki.black@mycase.com.