How One Inn Has Adapted to Operating during Social Distancing

The Bencher—July/August 2020

Belinda S. Barnes, Esquire

The Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer American Inn of Court in Columbus, Ohio, has met September through November and January through May on the second Wednesday of each month since the early 1990s. We are a relatively small Inn, consisting of fewer than 80 members, because we are constrained by the size of the venue where we hold our meetings. We eat dinner together and then the assigned team for the month presents an hour-and-a-half–long continuing legal education (CLE) presentation. Our Inn has functioned in this way for almost 30 years. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

In late March, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was very proactive in closing all venues where physical distancing could not be effectively practiced. Our April Inn meeting was scheduled for April 15. However, the restaurant where we hold our meetings was forced to close per the governor’s directives, so we had no choice but to cancel our meeting. At first, we thought everything would be back open within a short period of time, but it soon became apparent that was not going to occur. Nonetheless, we still wanted to hold our Inn meetings so that members could get the CLE hours they were expecting to get through the Inn.

Fortunately, the American Inns of Court hosted a webinar at the national level on how to conduct virtual Inn meetings. Our Inn secretary watched the webinar and reported back to our Inn board that she was confident that we could hold virtual Inn meetings.

We then notified all of the Inn members that we had rescheduled the April presentation to May and the May presentation to June and that they would be held virtually. One of our at-large board members then offered the Zoom account of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law to host the virtual Inn meeting. She then trained the team leaders and one other team member for each team how to effectively conduct a Zoom conference.

I was the team leader for the April presentation, which was now the May presentation. I was terrified. I kept thinking of all the things that could go wrong, and if they did, I was worried that our Inn members would be very disappointed. Further, coordinating the team presentation was more challenging than had we been able to meet in person because we had to communicate through email and telephone calls.

To my surprise, the May 13 Inn presentation, “Should the U.S. Supreme Court be Restructured?” went very well. All Inn members who had registered to attend the meeting were given a Zoom link to open within 15 minutes before the presentation was to begin. Everyone who opened the link could see everyone who was attending the presentation, as well as the eight presenters. Everyone was told to mute themselves so there would be no unwanted background noise. Only one presenter and therefore, only one person, talked at a time.

The presentations were done one after another. Most of the presenters used visual aids  such as PowerPoint slides that were shown through Zoom’s “share my screen” feature. The only technical problem we encountered was that one team member could not get his audio equipment to work, but the other team members were able to fill in the time so that the presentation was long enough. The attendees typed questions to the presenter using the “chat” function on the Zoom platform and then the moderator brought the question to the presenter’s attention. At the end of the presentation, the Inn members participated in a survey. Overwhelmingly, they said they enjoyed the presentation and felt that the Zoom meeting was a success.

Personally, I am very pleased for two reasons: I am happy that the presentation went well because it certainly wouldn’t have looked good if the president of the Inn could not coordinate a Zoom interactive CLE, but more importantly, it provided our Inn with an optional way to present interactive CLE to our members. Certainly, in person meetings are better, but it is nice to have an option.

Belinda Barnes, a trial attorney for 33 years and partner with the law firm of Gallagher, Gams, Tallan, Barnes & Littrell in Columbus, Ohio, is the President of the Chief Justice Moyer Inn Of Court.

© 2020 Belinda S. Barnes, Esq. This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.