Bar Leader: What Now? Easing Toward Recovery, Bars Contemplate What ‘Reopening’ Means

As originally published in ABA’S Bar Leader Vol. 46, No. 6 July-August 2021

What now? Easing toward recovery, bars contemplate what ‘reopening’ means

by Dan Kittay, ABA | Featuring Heinan Landa, Optimal Networks

As pandemic restrictions ease and bars contemplate how to best return to their offices, there is a range of opinions on how much of the staff actually needs to be in the office in order to deliver services to members and the public.

There is general agreement on at least one idea: The disruption in workflow caused by COVID will have a lasting impact on how bars function.

“It’s never going to be business as usual,” says Yolanda Jackson, executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

BASF had already been in the process of looking for a new building when the pandemic forced a shutdown in March 2020. After seeing that the staff could function remotely, bar leaders decided to scale down their footprint, eventually moving from the 23,000-square-foot headquarters to a new 12,000-square-foot space. The staff size has remained the same, but many workers alternate days in the office and days working remotely, and there are some shared offices, Jackson says.

Prior to the shutdown, the bar had a limited flextime policy that allowed some employees to occasionally work at home for limited periods. The pandemic spurred the bar to evaluate which jobs required a physical presence in the office, and which could be handled remotely.

The process of deciding how BASF would transition back to the office began with a staff-wide retreat, where employees talked about what they had learned from the shutdown.

“We can’t come out of this pandemic and not talk about how it was good for us and how it was bad for us,” Jackson believes. “It was good for us in a lot of ways. We became more dependent on technology, which created a lot of efficiencies. We learned that we all don’t need to be in the office five days a week in order to get our jobs done well. We learned where our weaknesses are as a team.”


What will meetings, events look like now?

One important question for bars that are reopening is how to handle hosting events, such as CLE programming, committee meetings and networking functions. The word “hybrid” has become part of the lexicon, as bars try to accommodate those who want to meet in person and those who have become comfortable attending by Zoom or other video technologies.

BASF, which like many bars saw an uptick in CLE attendance when seminars were all done remotely, plans to keep offering many programs online. Jackson says that with many lawyers now working remotely for their firms, there are likely fewer who would be willing to drive into San Francisco for a program, preferring to participate from their computer. The bar expects in the fall to begin offering some of its larger programs on a hybrid basis, with about 50 people being able to attend in person and the rest connecting remotely.

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