Court associations use video tech to maintain member connections

Chief Justice Suttell shares message of opportunity during ABA Midyear Meeting

CJ Suttell

Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell emphasized the need for continued bench and bar collaboration to support equal and accessible justice for all during an address to the House of Delegates at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting on February 14.

His recorded message, which played during the ABA virtual meeting, referenced a time of unprecedented opportunity as courts review operations while considering the adoption of pandemic-era innovations. As president of the Conference of Chief Justices, Chief Justice Suttell also spoke of opportunities to promote racial justice following the murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

“Our courts must not only administer justice fairly and impartially, but they must be perceived as doing so by the people they serve,” he said, calling attention to work underway through NCSC’s Blueprint for Racial Justice and efforts in his home state of Rhode Island.

Increasing access to justice provides opportunities for the courts and legal community, especially as the country continues to deal with evictions. Chief Justice Suttell noted CCJ’s working relationship with the U.S. Department of Justice to address eviction-related state court challenges and NCSC’s new Eviction Diversion Initiative. In addition to emerging issues, Chief Justice Suttell also spoke of ongoing work to address issues such as the courts’ response to individuals suffering from severe mental illness and case backlogs.

Court associations use video tech to maintain member connections

While the coronavirus pandemic disrupted NCSC-managed associations and shrunk membership for some groups, associations leveraged video technology to deliver remote conferences, podcasts, and webinars for their members.

NCSC supports close to a dozen court-related associations, providing an array of services with a ten-person staff that forms the backbone for groups like the American Judges Association (AJA) and the National Association for Court Management (NACM). At the outset of the pandemic, NCSC stepped in by providing free access to video licenses, so the groups didn’t miss a beat.

Some groups did see their memberships decline. However, at least a few associations—the Conference of Court Public Information Officers (CCPIO), National Association of State Judicial Educators (NASJE), and National Association for Presiding Judges and Court Executive Officers (NAPCO)—decided against dropping members for nonpayment during the pandemic. They wanted their members, regardless of their ability to pay dues, to have access to information. Both NASJE and NAPCO offered monthly virtual offerings and experienced a slight uptick in memberships during the pandemic.

Much has been made about how courts used video technology to conduct remote hearings since the spring of 2020, but court associations also used this technology to keep in touch with their members and provide them with information. Here are some examples:

  • NACM held a free Virtual Education Program and Expo in 2020 in place of its annual conference.
  • In the spring of 2021, NACM conducted a four-part webinar in place of its midyear conference.
  • CCPIO held its 2021 annual meeting virtually.
  • NAPCO hosted monthly webinars, and conducted its 2020 and 2021 annual conferences virtually.
  • NASJE developed a podcast with a series of conversations with luminaries from the NASJE community.

Mostly behind the scenes, NCSC’s Association Services team has worked hard in many ways on behalf of the associations.

“Association Services doesn’t just plan conferences and meetings, we also step in to help when those meetings cannot take place in person,” said Jennifer Haire, director of NCSC’s Association Services Department. “During 2020 and 2021, the team found themselves having to shuffle working on hotel and venue cancellations, mitigating potential penalties, and negotiating future re-bookings.”

“With so many courts turning to remote workers, membership renewal letters weren’t reaching intended recipients, which in turn challenged the team with keeping revenue coming in for the associations,” Haire said. “Becoming tech-savvy overnight was no small feat. Many associations held monthly webinars, executive committee and board meetings, and other virtual meetings, meaning our staff had to become experts overnight in the virtual world.”

And while the use of video technology is no doubt here to stay, there is also a hunger to meet again in person. Several groups hosted in-person meetings in the fall of 2021, and NACM’s 2022 midyear conference—coming up next week in Washington State—has more people registered than the group’s last pre-pandemic midyear meeting.