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The end of the year for many is a time to reflect on what was learned and the triumphs and tribulations experienced along the way. During the last 12 months, the FJA® has worked toward maintaining its “business as usual” atmosphere, even in the face of unprecedented change.

What you may not know is that, behind the scenes, this year marked several firsts for the FJA in its long history. From increasing program offerings, advancing technology, and finding new ways to connect during a global pandemic, we’ve continued to stay flexible and innovate new ways to conduct business as usual and support our members throughout the state during these challenging times.

Going Virtual

While the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down seemingly overnight, many organizations, including the FJA, sprang into action to find alternative ways to continue to create value and provide resources and support to members. One of the ways FJA did this was by taking advantage of expanded virtual opportunities. “The pandemic really opened up a whole new world of online and virtual offerings for events and programming,” said FJA CLE Director Lee Phillips. “Since holding a successful, all virtual event for our John Romano Workhorse Seminar earlier this year we’re now offering more continuing education programs with virtual options than ever before.” Shifting some of its existing events, like the John Romano Workhorse Seminar and the Annual Convention to an all-virtual format or a hybrid virtual model has not only increased access for members but has also fostered opportunities to collaborate with speakers in a new way.

From its CLEs to its legal updates, the FJA has been at the forefront in communicating complex and changing topics in the legal landscape. One example of this was the addition of CLE programming specifically tailored to the novel issues and challenges faced by trial lawyers due to impacts the pandemic has had on jury trials.

“FJA’s ‘Facing the Post-COVID Jury: What You Need to Know’ webinar offered real insights into the make-up and selection of jurors since the start of the COVID era,” said Howard Coker, Coker Law. “This CLE which is available via online streaming can really help [members] navigate today’s challenges.” In addition to expanding access to its online educational programming, the FJA took advantage of widespread shifts to online meetings and now provides an alternative for members to stay up to date on the latest information affecting trial lawyers — not to mention creating meaningful opportunities to connect with each other virtually.

The FJA has always provided ways for members to catch up on the latest news, but with the addition of virtual meetings and recordings, now members don’t have to miss an update due to an unexpected day in trial, calendar conflicts, or issues with location proximity. “We felt that it was important to expand upon the ways in which we communicated with our members about not only legislative and political issues, but also provide resources to help combat impacts felt by the pandemic,” said acting Membership Director John Brazzell. “While we were able to host a few of our Membership Appreciation Receptions in person, we have now added virtual meetings including section meetings, roundtables, and full membership town halls to our arsenal.”

Some of these highly successful offerings set to stay include the addition of regular membership town halls across the state, FJA’s legislative and political updates, and section meetings.

Advancing Technology

Suddenly switching to virtual technology is no easy feat; many would say it takes months if not years to successfully implement and execute an organization-wide upgrade.

However, thanks to pre-planning, hard work, and perseverance, the FJA stayed ahead of the curve and made some monumental upgrades to its technology infrastructure in the past year. Some of these major upgrades include an all-new FJA website, new association management software, new email marketing platform, new mobile app, upgraded accounting system, and new phone system.

The FJA technology department leader, Chief Information Officer Jeremy Hayes, will tell you that while it has not been an easy process, it has been worthwhile in increasing the user experience for FJA members.

“While the pandemic certainly elevated the importance of having a secure system in place to ensure work continuity in the event of a natural disaster, ultimately transitioning to a remote workspace quickly was made possible in part due to our migration to the Cloud in 2019,” said Hayes. “From there, we continued to look at each aspect of our user experience to find alternatives to not only save time and money, but also enhance overall security while increasing the range of products, resources, and services we offer.”

With a new website and association management system in place, the FJA is ahead of many other professional associations in providing a seamless experience for its members.

Most notably, according to the Florida Society of Association Executives, FJA has positioned itself as a model for other associations to follow. Thanks to a focus on integrated data tools and best practices including email preferences, personalization, and areas of interest, FJA is continuing to provide members with the right content, at the right time.

Keeping the Legislative Process Moving

The 2021 legislative session may have only been 60 days, but efforts to fight for passage of priority legislation started long before March 2. This year, FJA members from throughout the state of Florida came to Tallahassee to attend lobby team meetings, meet with legislators, advise on bill language and amendments, testify in front of committees, and recruit clients to provide real-world examples of the impacts of proposed legislation.

“Seeing our members’ tireless commitment to justice is one of the most rewarding things to witness,” said Legislative and Political Director Jeff Porter. “Even when it was difficult and external threats like a global pandemic, disrupted schedules, and travel logistics loomed, FJA members and citizen members made it a priority to travel to Tallahassee to advance (and defend) legislation impacting Florida’s civil justice system and access to the courts.”

Many bad bills dealing with Offers of Judgment, Medical Damages (LIMP), Workers’ Compensation/Attorney Fees, and more were successfully defeated. While others relating to the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan (NICA) and telephone solicitation (robocalls) that FJA championed, were successfully passed.

The historic passage of the no-fault auto insurance repeal (return to responsible roadways), which was diligently championed for more than five years, was approved by both the Senate and the House but was unfortunately vetoed by the governor. However, despite the veto, work has continued in the months following the session through Zoom meetings, conference calls, and more to keep the momentum going into the 2022 session. In true FJA fashion, neither temporary setbacks nor a global pandemic can keep us from pressing onward.

Celebrating Justice Together

This year has been all about flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to pivot when things change rapidly. When the opportunity presented itself to resume events safely again, the FJA quickly switched gears to host its first Annual Convention in person since 2019 this past June at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.

“After over a year of staying at home to protect ourselves and our neighbors from the effects of COVID-19, we were ecstatic to be able to host our Annual Convention once again,” said FJA Executive Director Paul Jess. “For our staff to put together our first in-person event after a year hiatus with virtual options in just a few short weeks is nothing short of incredible given the countless hours of coordination and logistics required to execute.”

From our most attended Diversity and Inclusion Reception to our event seminars, meetings, and social events, Annual Convention exceeded expectations and provided a brief respite for members to connect with one another over this year’s theme “Celebrating Justice Together.”

Annual Convention wasn’t the only event we managed to squeeze in while it was safer to do so. In addition, the FJA hosted nine Membership Appreciation Receptions across the state as well as several small group events like the Women’s Caucus Pensacola boat trip, CLE Section Breakfast for Paralegals and Legal Assistants, and Table for Eight.

Although we would have liked to host a few more in-person events this year, one thing is for certain; the energy felt from being back in person with our members was unmatched. We laughed, hugged, and caught up on what was missed over the last year and some months.

Despite moving to virtual, then to in-person, then back to virtual again, we’ve accomplished significant achievements that will benefit the FJA in both the short and long term. Most importantly, we look forward to what lies ahead, as well as exploring new ways to innovate and succeed at supporting our members and protecting our civil justice system.

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