Brooklyn Boro

Looking back at a mostly virtual year at the Brooklyn Bar Association

December 30, 2021 Rob Abruzzese
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If 2020 was potentially one of the worst years in the existence of the Brooklyn Bar Association, then 2021 certainly would be in the running for Most Improved Year.

The Brooklyn Bar Association held an event with District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in March of 2020. Immediately following that event, the BBA announced that it had canceled all planned events and it wouldn’t be until June of 2021 that members of the association would meet again in person in any capacity.

A lot of things have changed since then. We lost about 1,000 active members in a span of nine months, but a move to virtual events helped stop the bleeding and now the association is slowly regrowing.

Now instead of people filling the halls of 123 Remsen St., they attend Brooklyn Bar Association events virtually. Some things are lost virtually, like two colleagues who haven’t seen each other since law school meeting up again, or two adversaries getting an opportunity to come together and make progress on a case, or even a judge helping give advice to a new attorney. 

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However, virtual events also give the BBA and its members more flexibility. No longer does a person have to factor in commuting time. They don’t even have to be on time to the event when they’re all recorded. That flexibility has given us greater attendance at some of these virtual Continuing Legal Education seminars than we’ve had in years. 

Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik will be one of the guest speakers at the BBA’s flag-raising ceremony on Jan. 12. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

It also gives the judges flexibility to attend. With no commute, the association has scheduled many CLE and committee meetings to coincide with the court’s lunch time. As a result, we have had committee chairs, our own officers, and even judges attending more events with greater regularity in the past. This provides our members with an excellent platform to get to know the judges, the rules of their courtrooms, and expectations they should have.

Slowly the BBA has built up a lot of momentum. After nearly no events in 2020, it held 15 virtual CLEs in 2021, including one hybrid CLE, “Speedy Trial and Discovery after COVID,” with a pair of attorneys from the Brooklyn Defender Services. The association also held six virtual sitdowns with judges, including Hon. Lawrence Knipel, the Administrative Judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, and 15 committee and section meetings.

The CLEs included: Knowledge Is Power: What You Need to Know About the New Power of Attorney, a Lunch and Learn with the Bankruptcy Court judges, Video Conference Etiquette, COVID’s Silver Lining: Professionalism, Civility and Self Awareness, Estate Planning and Probate 101 in a COVID Environment, Providing Culturally Competent Services to the LGBTQ+ Community, Ethical Considerations in SCPA 1404 Examinations, Civil Rights Implications of the 2021 Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, We All Speak Justice Here: Ensuring Equal Justice Through Language Access, The Role of the NYS Attorney General in Surrogate’s Court Proceedings, and Batson, Implicit Bias and Peremptory Challenges.

The Brooklyn Bar Association sponsored a spectacular in-person outdoor wine-tasting event at Giando on June 8. It was the Association’s first in-person event since COVID-19. Members, the judiciary, and friends enjoyed a pleasant evening reconnecting in one of New York City’s most iconic venues. Eagle file photo by Mario Belluomo

The CLEs were all held virtually on Zoom and were all recorded with the exception of one. Attendees were able to ask questions just like the events were in person, however, since they were recorded, they can easily go back and watch or re-watch anything missed and follow up with the presenter via email. 

While in-person events have not returned on a regular basis, the current COVID environment has allowed the BBA to begin returning to them, albeit slowly.

The first in-person event was a wine tasting, outdoor event at Giando on the Water in June. This allowed our vaccinated members who were comfortable getting together in a low-risk setting to do so for the first time in over a year.

Since then, the BBA has held officers meetings in a hybrid format, hosted its first fully hybrid CLE, with people joining us in person and via Zoom, and we even held our first Holiday Party in 50 years.

The Holiday Party was a little bittersweet because we normally host our Annual Dinner in December instead of celebrating the holidays. It was only because we weren’t able to have our annual dinner at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge that we were even able to have our holiday party at all. The event ended up being a big success as Past President Hon. Frank Seddio was able to arrange a feast for about 100 members who showed up. 

The next step is to build off of this. Now that Brooklyn Bar Association members have gotten used to attending virtual events, and hearings, we expect to be able to host them more consistently. We’re also going to continue to look for opportunities for hybrid and in-person events when we feel like we can do so safely. 

The Brooklyn Bar Association’s next event will be a flag-raising ceremony to kick off the celebration of its 150th anniversary on January 12 at 1 p.m. Due to the COVID Omicron variant, there will not be a reception at the BBA building, however, we are still going to host a brief event outside of the building with a series of guest speakers including Hon. Jeffrey Sunshine and Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik, a pair of past presidents who currently sit on the bench in the Kings County Supreme Court, that will be broadcast to our members virtually.

Robert Abruzzese is the former Legal Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the current Director of Member Services at the Brooklyn Bar Association. Now as a legal columnist for the Eagle, Abruzzese writes for the BBA and the local legal community. For information about joining the Brooklyn Bar Association, you can reach him via email at [email protected].

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