After the state of Missouri and City of St. Louis announced stay-at-home orders in mid-March, the staff of The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (BAMSL) grabbed paper and digital files we thought we needed to sustain us working at home for a couple of weeks — and worked through the challenges of learning how to connect to the BAMSL server remotely (thanks to Assistant Executive Director Dan Barnett for literally getting us all "connected!"). The initial thought was that we probably would return within a month.
The state of Missouri lifted its stay-at-home orders in early May and the City of St. Louis announced phased reopening for businesses beginning on May 18. The BAMSL staff plans to return to the office on May 26.
During the 10 weeks that the staff worked from the confines of their homes, staff and leadership kept moving forward, never even thinking of halting operations. Instead, the attitude was "What can we do?" coming up with innovative ways to help BAMSL members feel connected, get their CLEs remotely, and even conduct business, while also finding ways to help those who are significantly less fortunate in the community.
The Executive Committee and Board of Governors, as well as many Sections and Committees and the Young Lawyers Division, have continued to conduct business "almost as usual" with remote meetings. The CLE Department immediately shifted gears to provide virtual CLEs. Zoe has rescheduled so many events that we all now hold our collective breaths to see if our venues and guest speakers are available on the rescheduled, rescheduled dates.
We even had a successful transition of power to begin the 2020-21 bar year on time, with a virtual swearing-in ceremony. It was a fortunate turn of events that BAMSL's incoming president, Hon. Judge Glenn Norton, was able to "receive" the gavel from outgoing president Sara Neill and be able to be sworn in by his wife, Hon. Colleen Dolan, chief judge of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, from the comforts of their living room.
We wanted to share an update of all the things that BAMSL members have accomplished in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Feeding the Community
BAMSL's St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger Committee offers opportunities for members to donate food, provide funding and volunteer to local efforts to feed area schoolchildren and their families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- St. Louis Area Food Bank created a virtual food drive specifically for BAMSL members to donate food directly from your computer. Please visit www.bamsl.org/VirtualFoodDrive. (This virtual food drive will continue indefinitely.) BAMSL members also are encouraged to volunteer to pack food at a time convenient for you at https://stlfoodbank.org/get-involved/volunteer/.
- Step It Up, Inc., a charity run by BAMSL member Beth Boggs, pivoted its mission to provide food to families that have lost their food programs due to school closures. The group is always in need of volunteers, so please contact Nick Johnston at (314) 726-2310 or firstname.lastname@example.org. BAMSL member Sarah Bardol, chair of the YLD Community Service Committee, also has stepped up to assist with getting volunteers to help make sandwiches for the efforts and to deliver meals.
- The St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger initiative also is accepting donations. The funding supports St. Louis Area Food Bank, Step It Up, Operation Food Search, Meals on Wheels and St. Patrick Center. Donations can be made at www.bamsl.org/donate (please select St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger under "Fund" and, if desired, add the organization you wish your funds to be designated to in the "Donor Comments" section).
As of May 15, the virtual food drive for St. Louis Area Foodbank has raised $3,320.26, which provides 13,281 meals. Donations directly to the St. Louis Attorneys Against Hunger fund is at $7,600, with a significant donation from Ed Dowd, Jr., as well as a law student who donated his $1,200 government stimulus check because he said he was fortunate enough to be in a position to help.
Step It Up, Inc., has partnered with several organizations, including Wallis Oil (which operates Mobil on the Run gas stations), the NAACP, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, the Jennings School District, Operation Food Search, Epworth Children's Center, Catholic Charities, Alton Crisis Center, Belleville Food Pantries, St. Vincent Depaul, and many more, including the region's public libraries, to distribute meals. The project grew quickly from a few thousand meals to a goal of distributing 18,000-20,000 meals every week. The goal has been exceeded, with more than 23,000 meals distributed the week of May 11. Approximately 25,000 masks also have been distributed to the community as of mid-May.
Bardol, who has volunteered numerous hours of her own time, also has rallied BAMSL's Women in the Legal Profession (WILP) Section, the Young Lawyers Division and other sections and committees to help provide volunteers to make approximately 4,000 sandwiches a week.
Pro Bono Legal Assistance
BAMSL always has opportunities for the legal community to provide pro bono services throughout the year, including our annual Pro Bono Challenge. The pro bono initiatives continued and even expanded during the height of the pandemic.
- When a surgical resident reached out to BAMSL with concerns about the lack of estate plans in place for health care workers, Rixey Ruffin, chair of BAMSL's Probate & Trust Law Section, rallied a team to respond to the need. The COVID-19 Emergency Pro Bono Estate Planning Task Force has almost 100 attorneys available to assist our health care heroes. The task force matches individuals who seek the service with volunteer attorneys willing to provide it. The attorneys prepare an estate plan, including at least a will, durable powers of attorney, and health care declaration/living will for the health care worker and his/her spouse.
- The St. Louis Bankruptcy Pro Se Assistance Program and the St. Louis Federal Court Legal Advice Clinic continue to provide legal assistance. Visit www.bamsl.org/ProBono for more detailed information.
- BAMSL's Family Law Section, under the leadership of Amy Hoch Hogenson, has organized the "Family Law Legal Assistance Program." Family law attorneys take calls from individuals in need of assistance due to COVID-19 from 4-8 p.m. on Thursdays.
- BAMSL encourages members to volunteer through the Missouri Bar's "Free Legal Answers" platform (Missouri.FreeLegalAnswers.org). This is a state-run portion of a broader American Bar Association effort. Volunteer lawyers sign up to answer questions submitted by citizens through the Web site. Lawyers have insurance coverage through the ABA for communications taking place on the platform.
LEGAL COMMUNITY SUPPORT
BAMSL's CLE department immediately shifted to providing a significant amount of virtual CLEs on a wide variety of topics to help legal professionals adjust — including running a law firm during the crisis, navigating the SBA loans, shifting to using technology, working from home and assisting employees.
BAMSL also has held two highly successful International Law virtual CLEs that have drawn attendees from all over the world.
- BAMSL provided a snapshot of COVID-19 and International Law with co-sponsors the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and the International Law Association (American Branch). The webinar featured experts in global health, international business and human rights. Topics included the international framework for pandemics and explained the legal and practical global implications of COVID-19; the role of the World Health Organization and the United Nations; how the global pandemic has impacted international business; whether the responses of states comply with human rights law; and state responsibility for preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Attendees hailed from 15 different countries, including Australia, Barbados, Canada, France, India, Spain and the United Kingdom.
- BAMSL, the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law and the International Law Association (American Branch) also hosted Immigrants & Refugees During COVID-19: State Responses and Responsibilities. As a result of governments around the world that ordered citizens to stay at home to help fight the deadly pandemic, the question was, what about people who have left their home in search of safety elsewhere? The webinar examined the difficult position faced by refugees and asylum seekers around the world and discussed the legal obligations of states toward migrants during the pandemic. This webinar drew attendees from seven different countries, including the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.
In the first few weeks after the local and state stay-at-home orders were implemented, the 10-person BAMSL staff spent a great a significant amount of time attempting to call and email as many members as possible. The purpose was to check in on members, their colleagues, their firms and even their families to see how everyone was doing and what BAMSL could do to assist them.
Virtual Town Hall Meetings
BAMSL hosted free weekly Town Hall-style virtual meetings for BAMSL members to hear from guest speakers, such as members of our judiciary and local health officials, on the impact of COVID-19. The Town Halls included:
- Hon. Rodney W. Sippel, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, and Gregory J. Linhares, Clerk of Court of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
- Hon. Rex Burlison, Presiding Judge of the 22nd Circuit Court (St. Louis City).
- Hon. Michael D. Burton, Presiding Judge of the 21st Circuit Court (St. Louis County).
- Alex Garza, M.D., incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, who provided an update about the ever-changing situation.
- Missouri Lawyer-Legislators participated in a Legislative Legal Landscape: COVID-19 Impact on Missouri virtual session to assess the current and future impact of the pandemic on the state of Missouri. Panelists included: Missouri Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold); Missouri Rep. Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis); Missouri Rep. Steven Roberts (D-St. Louis) and Missouri Rep. Wes Rogers (D-Kansas City). Moderators were Hon. Glenn A. Norton, BAMSL president, of-counsel with Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch and former judge with the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District; and Scott Lauck, senior reporter, Missouri Lawyers Media, which served as co-host with BAMSL for the event.
- BAMSL and Missouri Lawyers Media also presented a CLE webinar featuring Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe speaking about the economic and legal impact of COVID-19 on Missouri. The program, COVID-19: Its Impact on Missouri's Legal Landscape, was moderated by Hon. Norton and Lauck.
Health and Well-Being
National Lawyer Well-Being Week occurred May 4-8, in the middle of state and local stay-at-home orders. In-person events were forced to be cancelled, but BAMSL still hosted virtual events.
- CLE: Lawyer Well-Being as a Professional Priority: BAMSL member and Missouri Bar President-Elect John Gunn discussed how the landscape of the profession is changing with respect to lawyer wellness and some resources and tools in place to assist all lawyers with being well.
- Virtual Yoga with Amy: BAMSL member Amy Rebecca Johnson has provided a couple of yoga classes throughout the year, and she has done a couple now from the comfort of her own home while BAMSL members participate virtually from their own homes. Her classes are catered to all levels, beginner to advanced. Johnson also is a certified 200-hour registered yoga instructor and is chair of BAMSL's Well-Being Committee.
- Gateway Region YMCA offered its library of virtual workouts to do at home.
BAMSL Resource Page
BAMSL created a COVID-19 resource page in mid-March that is housed on our Web site (www.bamsl.org/covid19). It is packed with continuously updated information about the courts and their operations as well tips and tools about coping mentally, emotionally and physically along with resources if you need professional help. The page is updated on an ongoing basis.