ABA announces all-digital ABA Day, urges Congress to provide coronavirus relief to nonprofits and create task force
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The in-person portion of ABA Day, scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., from April 21 to 23, has been canceled because of the public health emergency created by COVID-19.
The planned digital portion of the event now is being expanded, Deborah Enix-Ross, chair of the ABA Day planning committee, announced in a Thursday email to the House of Delegates.
The decision to call off the in-person portion of the event comes as authorities are recommending against hosting large group meetings, and a growing number of businesses and government agencies are limiting and prohibiting travel, Enix-Ross wrote. Additionally, current public access restrictions at the U.S. Capitol could be extended past March.
A senior adviser for international dispute resolution at Debevoise & Plimpton, Enix-Ross also asked for help with plans to expand a coordinated online advocacy effort known as ABA Day Digital 2020.
Holly Cook, director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office, told the ABA Journal on Friday that her office is “excited to expand ABA Digital to incorporate all of our ABA Day efforts while still raising the voices of the legal profession in solidarity.”
“We are expanding the digital opportunity; we are by no means canceling ABA Day,” she said. “It is too important to our advocacy, and it is too important to the issues on which we work. We are lucky we have the opportunity to maximize the technological tools that we have building up the last few years.”
Cook added that a new schedule of events planned for April 22 and 23 will be released soon.
Also Thursday, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez sent a letter to leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, urging them to include associations, nonprofits and other tax-exempt organizations in federal aid packages or supplemental appropriations they consider in response to COVID-19.
In the March 12 letter, Martinez said the ABA has canceled 16 major events as a result of the coronavirus and suffered significant financial losses, “with more cancellations and financial harm expected in the near term as a direct result of COVID-19.”
While the ABA recognizes that Congress’ priority is the safety of citizens, testing and financial assistance for those who are impacted by the coronavirus and unable to return to work, Martinez said business and industry also will need support from the government.
The ABA conducts more than 300 in-person training events and meetings for more than 60,000 attendees in the United States and abroad each year, she said. Those events contribute more than $107 million to the U.S. gross domestic product annually, and they ensure legal professionals receive training they need to help clients and fulfill CLE requirements they need to maintain their licenses.
“The approximately $35 million of revenues normally generated by ABA meetings are a significant portion of our annual revenues, and the loss of these revenues meaningfully harms our ability to fulfill our mission to serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession,” Martinez said.
“Tax changes or other federal assistance are greatly needed by our association and other nonprofits to protect these limited resource streams for our organizations and our staffs and to ensure we all remain operationally able to support the public and fulfill our respective public service missions,” she added.
Also on Friday, the ABA announced a new task force, focused on identifying legal needs related to COVID-19. Called the Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic, it will be chaired by James J. Sandman, the former president of the Legal Services Corporation.
“As the pandemic spreads, thousands of Americans will need help—not just with medical issues but also with legal issues including lost jobs, evictions, insurance claims, family emergencies and obtaining government benefits they need to survive,” Martinez said in a news release about the task force. “Those who come before our criminal justice system will face additional challenges as jobs are lost, the inability to pay fines and fees escalates and we face a greater risk of detentions. In times of crisis, lawyers help. With this task force, we will start by looking for where the need is greatest and where we can make the biggest difference for people in dire situations.”
ABAJournal.com: “ABA cancels some meetings due to coronavirus concerns”
Updated March 13 at 3:38 p.m. to include info about the ABA’s new task force and Judy Perry Martinez’s statement.