Welcome to 2022. And quite a welcome it is. It seems we have more to learn about pandemics. I am hopeful Omicron’s lesson will be shorter than other recent teachings but if we have learned anything, it is to be skeptical of anyone who expresses certainty. I am certain, though (see what I did there?), that flexibility and resilience will continue to be essential to our ability to function, not to mention make progress.

One thing we have to be flexible about is MCBA’s annual installation and scholarship gala. We have moved it from 5:30 to 8:00 on Thursday, January 27th, to the same hours on February 17th (also a Thursday). We have planned a fun event, with a minimal program, and maximum chance to visit and interact with friends and colleagues at the wonderful new Jonas Center. Will we be able to have an in-person event in mid-February? I hope so. But I don’t know. I do know that people are tired of Zoom and want to get together. I think I am much more tolerant of Zoom than most but I do not consider the installation much of a “gala” if it’s not in-person. If we need to move it again, we will and we will endeavor to at least keep the format, hours and night of the week the same.

While we can't get together in person on the 27th, we can virtually, and we have scheduled our first general membership meeting of the year for that day--at the traditional noon hour. MCBA Past-President Wanden Treanor has put together a panel on buying and selling a law practice and what you need to do when closing down a practice. No, we're not trying to encourage retirements. Everyone should know what's involved so that you can take steps now to have your practice in the best shape for sale and to streamline retirement when you do take that step. And of course if you are on the early side of your career and might buy a practice, come hear what to look for and how to go about it. You can register for it now.

I spend much of my work day physically alone but I do not feel isolated (I can imagine the thoughts of a few parents, “Isolation, that sounds great!”) Even before the pandemic, I was on the phone or Skype a lot, now I’m also on Zoom, not having to leave the house even for an infrequent court appearance. I do feel connected but I miss the serendipitous encounters, the introductions to new colleagues, and more frequent conversations with friends. I do not think our lives will be going back to normal but will shift to a new, potentially better, normal. We will have to work together to figure out what that normal will look like.

What would you like it to look like? That’s not a rhetorical question. Do you never want to hear the word “Zoom” again? Or do you never want to go into an office again? Certainly, in the near-term, our choices are not entirely up to us. But in the (hopefully not too much) longer term, how do we want to do our jobs? How do we want to engage with our colleagues, our clients, and our community? I’d like to propose “engagement” as a theme for 2022. How we engage in all aspects of our lives will evolve organically in some ways but we still have agency to influence and even decide how we engage.

That is a tremendous privilege. Many people have far less agency than we do in how they engage with the world. Their choices may be stark. Engaging differently may mean quitting a job, which may not seem like an option to many people, not if they want to eat. As we consider what our own engagement will look like, I think this is a good time to consider just what we are engaging in and how it serves us and those around us. MCBA is a “mutual benefit” corporation. We serve our members first and foremost. But we also serve our community. And our community—both local and in a much larger sense—could use our help.

Even for people completely untouched by direct loss from the pandemic, it is taking a tremendous toll. I find people—myself included—less responsive, taking longer to get things done—not surprising when getting things done takes navigating unfamiliar and frequently changing ways of doing…almost everything. To bring these abstract musings a little more down to earth, some of you know that I am a long-time volunteer for Legal Aid of Marin through Vivalon, fka Whistlestop. My work used to consist mostly of relatively short (40-minute) appointments to give advice. After an initial lull at the start of the pandemic, most of my work now consists of specific projects for clients, not just brief advice. What’s that going to look like as the pandemic recedes? I don’t know yet, nor does Legal Aid or Vivalon. We’re going to have to figure it out.

As we move through 2022, let’s talk about what you would like “engagement” to look like. Without many serendipitous encounters, it may take more intention to share your opinion. But I encourage everyone to deliberately engage with me and all MCBA board members and staff to share your opinions, ideas, or just get a discussion going. It can be about what MCBA does and how it does it. Or it can be about the community and partner organizations and how we should engage with them. (Okay, hopefully you’re not sick of the word already.)

Speaking of the community, I am happy to mention three current opportunities for engagement. First, it’s time for the annual high school mock trial competition and jurors are needed. 18 trials will take place over two Saturdays: January 29 and February 5. The competition will take place over Zoom and each trial will last about two hours. Three jurors/scoring attorneys are needed for each trial. That’s a lot of volunteers (even with most volunteering for two trials)! More details are available in the notice in this issue of News & Notes. If you are interested in volunteering, please email Mee Mee Wong and include the date you’re interested in (and morning or afternoon if you are volunteering for just one trial). Mee Mee will compile a list and send it to Judge Haakenson, who is coordinating. (If you’ve already volunteered to Judge Haakenson, no need to resubmit your name.) Every year, “jurors” mention how impressed they are with the participants—and what fun it is.

Second, MCBA is in great need of more fee arbitrators. Most of you are aware that MCBA runs a volunteer fee arbitration program in conjunction with the state bar. This program is a great service to your colleagues (perhaps even to yourself one day). It provides a very low-cost forum for resolving fee disputes with clients and helps keep these disputes out of court and the public record. Because of a shortage of volunteers, several Bay Area counties are shutting down their programs. Please help us avoid that fate! Several of our excellent arbitrators are retiring at the same time more and more requests for arbitration are coming in. We need to expand our panel. All it takes is one three-hour training specific to the program, which you can now do online in the comfort of your home or office. Once you are qualified as an arbitrator, you can volunteer as an individual arbitrator for smaller cases and as part of a panel of three for larger ones. Please help MCBA keep providing this invaluable service. Once again, contact Mee Mee Wong for details if you are interested in serving.

Third, MCBA's pro bono and community outreach committees are supporting Legal Aid of Marin, Bay Area Legal Aid, and Community Action Marin in providing consumer rights pro bono advice. On Wednesday, January 19th, at 4:30 p.m., they will be holding a virtual consumer rights training (with CLE) for volunteers for a Friday, January 21st, virtual consumer rights legal clinic. The training will address debt collection, debt relief, bankruptcy issue spotting, and credit reporting, as well as best practices for helping clients in need of those services. The Friday clinic will have morning and afternoon sessions and volunteers are encouraged to participate in both. You can register on MCBA's website or contact Legal Aid of Marin's Pro Bono Manager, Laura McMahon for more information.

As we make our way through a problematic January, each day will bring a little more light. May it illuminate a safe and satisfying path forward for everyone. On behalf of Mee Mee, Denise, Kiersten, and the entire MCBA board, I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year.