By Patrick Connelly, originally published in Buffalo Law Journal, Buffalo Business First on Wed, 25 Mar 2020 08:26 EDT.

Amid pandemic, webinars are a virtual necessity

As news that impacted employers changed frequently in recent weeks, attorneys in the labor-and-employment sector at Bond Schoeneck & King PLLC kept pace via conference calls.

Then they pulled together what businesses needed to know, organized their thoughts and hosted webinars for clients and others.

“There are a lot of businesses and people looking for answers and we think this is an effective means for providing it,” said James Rooney, member at the firm’s Buffalo office.

Rooney said the legal sector feels a sense of responsibility in doing what it can keep people informed.

“Given the circumstances, it’s important that we get this information out to as many people as possible both in the Western New York community and elsewhere,” Rooney said.

Legal webinars are hardly a new tool for attorneys. Webinars have become the prime way to distribute information quickly in the fast-moving cycle of coronavirus news.

“From an information-sharing perspective, it’s been tremendous and a life saver in terms of keeping communication open with clients,” said James Grasso, partner at Phillips Lytle LLP.

As the crisis continues to unfold, firms plan to keep webinars going.

“Right now it’s really the best way to communicate with clients in a live format. And the only way right now,” Grasso said.

People from a variety of industries join the online calls. They like them because they can get a heads up on what’s happening, said Jeffrey Calabrese, partner at Harter Secrest & Emery LLP.

“I think the webinar feature or approach has been a good one,” he said. “Especially in this time of crisis when the information has to reach their desktop quickly, I think the webinar is a very good resource and it’s been very well received.

“It may even go up depending upon government actions and whether the situation dictates it,” Calabrese said. “We are preparing ourselves to even put one in-between the weekly ones if an urgent piece of information has come out. I think people are looking for quick thoughts and practical advice on how to handle the situation.”

The attorneys said participants have ranged from 200 to more than 1,000.

By legal standards, information distributed can only be considered practical advice or suggestions and not official legal counsel.

“In that sort of platform with such a broad audience, we can’t give specific legal advice, but we do our best to give useful guidance,” said Erin Ewell, an attorney at the Coppola Firm.

Grasso said the usual Phillips Lytle format includes a run through an online presentation with slides, followed by a question-and-answer session.

“We’re not reading the slides verbatim, but we’re using the slides essentially as information snapshots and then discussing that,” he said. “What we’ve been doing is giving people an outline of the legal developments that are developing to give them an overview of obligations and responsibilities that apply in a variety of situations.”

HEALTH CARE

Participants use the online meeting chat to type in questions, he added.

The Coppola Firm’s webinars have focused on getting information to small businesses, as well as coaching them through their concerns, Ewell said.

“We’ve been gathering a number of questions before we start the webinar,” she said. “We did a webinar just generally about questions business owners have in responding to COVID-19. We had a really great response throughout the community attending that.”

Attorneys Lisa Coppola and Jennifer Scharf are set to partake in one March 26 designed for lawyers on pandemic planning in the workplace and best practices in emergency preparedness, sponsored by the Erie County Bar Association.