LM Extras Oct 4, 2021

Back Together Again

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ALA’s 2021 Annual Conference & Expo kicked off on October 3, welcoming members and business partners back to the first in-person Annual Conference since the pandemic turned the world upside down. More than 600 attendees — including 100+ first timers — are meeting up in Austin, Texas, for education, networking and reconnecting.

Valerie A. Danner

Mark Eric McMickle, MBA, is one of those first-time attendees. He was inspired to attend the conference after seeing how welcoming everyone is. “I find myself being able to go up to a complete group of strangers, and before I know it, I’m part of the group,” says McMickle, the Firm Administrator at Baston & Nolan PLC in Clarksville, Tennessee.

This sense of community was front and center for him after this year, when his Middle Tennessee Chapter — and ALA as a whole — lost Past President Paula Barnes and active volunteer Mark Tallent.

President Michael T. Bumgarner, CLM, CPA, CGMA, “came in [from West Virginia] for Mark’s funeral, and I saw how much Mark’s family appreciated it,” he says. It was that sense of community that inspired McMickle to come to Austin this year.

It’s a sentiment felt by many roaming the halls of the Austin Convention Center, as those face-to-face connections have been sorely missed by both members and business partners alike.

“It’s been such a difficult 18 months for all of us, and so many of our members have relied on one another remotely during this time,” says ALA Executive Director April Campbell, JD. “It’s been such a wonderful sight to see so many of our members and business partners so engaged and back together in-person.”

The festivities officially kicked off at the Newcomers Connection and Welcome Reception, both held at an Austin favorite, Speakeasy. And everyone was ready to celebrate.

Members and business partners enjoyed networking and a cocktail with scenic views of Austin from Speakeasy’s rooftop as they caught up with longtime friends and made new connections. Depending on how much they celebrated may have affected how they responded to doing some squats at the keynote session on Monday. Jen Welter, PhD, the first female coach in the NFL, asked the audience to get in some linebacker-style poses — which included those thigh-burning squats.

Welter talked at length about how getting comfortable with who she is as a person and not changing to “fit” expectations made her able to earn the respect and ability to coach in a male-dominated industry.

Members had their choice of educational sessions to attend throughout the day. (And based on this writer’s viewpoint, the rooms were full of those eager to gather info on how to update processes after the seismic shift legal organizations faced throughout the pandemic.)

The Exhibit Hall also proved popular as ever, as business partners enjoyed face-to-face discussions with members about their latest products and services.

Above all, it seems that both those accustomed to conferences and those who are newer to the experience were just glad to be part of the ALA community again.

“It has been an amazing experience being back to in-person conference,” says Monique Terrell, Office Administrator at Fox Rothschild LLP in Washington, D.C. “I’ve been bonding with members and business partners, which is priceless and inspiring.”