This year's ABA Annual Meeting will take place virtually
In response to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the ABA Board of Governors decided in April that this year’s annual meeting will be entirely virtual.
The 2020 ABA Annual Meeting is scheduled for July 29 to Aug. 4. In addition to nearly 500 meetings and events, it includes the convening of the board to discuss the association’s business matters and the House of Delegates to consider a number of policy proposals.
“While we will not meet in person this summer in Chicago, I am pleased that we will nonetheless gather together to continue our important work,” ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said. “The ABA will present our annual meeting this year with a fresh new approach to our always-informative and inspiring event that so many of us and our families look forward to.”
The virtual meeting will be free to ABA members.
“The health and safety of attendees and staff remains the primary concern of the ABA,” ABA Executive Director Jack Rives says. “The decision to go virtual will allow us to give our members the best possible meeting experience while guaranteeing everyone’s well-being. We also expect that many of the innovations incorporated into this year’s meeting will be added to future in-person meetings.”
The ABA already has canceled the in-person portions of dozens of events, including ABA Day in April. Changing the association’s main lobbying day into a virtual event actually led to more participation, says Rives, and that success will influence planning for the annual meeting.
“We had bigger numbers that were able to communicate with their representatives on Capitol Hill than we did in the past, when you had to be here to really be heard,” Rives says. “We will learn some lessons from that and apply them to the future.”
Making the call
Rives says a working group of both staff and members studied options for the annual meeting and recommended to the board that the association conduct an all-online event. The working group considered several factors, including the safety of staff, members and affiliate groups, along with current economic conditions.
Rives says that the restrictions on group gatherings, air travel limitations and social distancing practices in place at hotels also contributed to the decision.
“The hotels and the establishments at which we had booked our reservations have all been extremely understanding of our need to cancel and appreciate that we did it in advance,” Rives tells the ABA Journal. “And since it is our home base of Chicago where we have a lot of meetings, we will be able to do makeups for the groups where we had to cancel. We haven’t firmed up everything, but we are confident we can work with the entities who were expecting us to be there in July and early August.”
The ABA Annual Meeting is also one of the two gatherings each year of the House of Delegates, which votes on policy issues.
Rives says ABA staff expects to create an electronic voting system and teleconference capacity so that House members can debate resolutions and vote remotely.
The White House began encouraging Americans to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people and to limit discretionary travel in March.
According to Forbes, as of April 22, more than 83 million people worldwide had been affected as hundreds of conferences, sports events and music festivals had been canceled or restructured to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
This article appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Adapting Annual: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ABA Annual Meeting will take place virtually.”