I’m a native New Yorker. Everybody in New York remembers exactly where they were on September 11th. But with the current pandemic, and national and local responses that could change our country even more dramatically, nobody here has a clue. That’s because it creeped into our lives a little at a time, day by day. It was in the weeks leading up to the 2020 Arnold Sports Festival that it really became the focal point of my attention. I’ve been attending “the Arnold” for nearly 20 years. For those there to do business, the massive expo floor is a madhouse and mostly to be avoided. But countless business-to-business deals have been struck at the Hilton or Hyatt bars connected to the Greater Columbus Convention Center. For me, as a lawyer with so many clients in the dietary supplement industry, it’s a great opportunity to meet in-person with prospective new clients. And with the geographic diversity of my existing clientele in the sports nutrition space, it’s one of the chances I get each year to spend face-to-face time with multiple clients all in one place.
Like so many industry members, I found myself seeking answers in the days leading up to the event. Was it being canceled or going forward? There was tremendous uncertainty as public panic escalated. Ultimately, it was decided that the expo and most events would be canceled, while some of the competitions (with highly restricted audiences) and a few events would proceed. I had long committed to attending several events, so I made the decision to hop on a plane for the short flight to Columbus. I made my scheduled appearance on a sports performance enhancement panel at the Arnold Education symposium, which was surprisingly well attended and a blast especially when “the Governator” himself stopped by. I also attended the annual International Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, this time as a freshman member of the Global Advisory Board. As always, Founder and Chairman Dr. Bob Goldman ran a great ceremony and I presented MLB star Johnny Damon with his award. My gratitude goes to Vice-President Fairfax Hackley for making such a fuss over me onstage. Afterwards, I got to spend some quality time at the Hilton bar with UFC legend Randy Couture, a fellow member of the Global Advisory Board.
For me, the Arnold was the dividing line between the old reality and the new. By the time I returned, the world was turning upside down. Here in New York, things were crazier than anywhere else. We got hit hard by the pandemic. The number of new COVID-19 infections was rising, panic was escalating, businesses were being shut down, and even courts were closing. One of the hats I wear is as President of my county bar association. The Nassau County Bar Association has ranked as the largest suburban bar association in the nation, resting comfortably in the shadow of New York City and servicing as many as 5,000 members, mostly lawyers. We have a beautiful landmark building modeled after London’s Middle Temple Inn of Court, and over a dozen folks who work there daily. Affectionately called “Domus,” Latin for “home,” the building is a bustling hive with committee meetings, continuing legal education programs, daily luncheon service, Dean’s hours, and countless other events. But as the wave of new COVID-19 cases mounted in New York, especially here on Long Island, safety required that the building be closed for the first time in 90 years.
That meant, for me and the staff and volunteer leaders of the association, a high-velocity pivot. In order to maintain our high level of value to our members, we had to transform a 120-year-old brick and mortar institution into a virtual one, and do it fast. l quickly descended neck-deep into the morass. There were so many different components to the organization that reimagining the way things were done took an extraordinary amount of my time over the last three months. The staff was converted to a home-based workforce. The educational programming switched to online. Committee meetings were shifted to Zoom. A professional association steeped in over a century of tradition was forced to make a dramatic change. And you know what? It worked. There were some bumps along the way, but we made our journey into uncharted new waters successfully. We are thriving.
Of course, I also had law firm clients to service. I have a robust court practice with cases spread out across the country. The pandemic put all but emergency matters on complete pause, or at least on a snail’s pace track. I typically spend a lot of time in airports. Since returning from Columbus, I haven’t been on a plane. Earlier this month I resolved a federal criminal case involving mislabeled dietary supplements remotely. We conducted the entire felony sentencing proceeding by Zoom, with participants dispersed among three different states. I suspect that virtual court appearances will become more and more common in the months ahead, rendering travel unnecessary in some cases and saving costs. Some of my upcoming speaking engagements have been converted to online webinars. Free tip: I suggest that it might not be a smart move to invest in companies that cater to business travel.
Although court activities had been reduced to a trickle, dietary supplement companies, regulated as a category within the food industry, were deemed essential businesses to remain in operation during the pandemic. Continuing to meet their needs was a priority for me, even though my staff and I were working from home due to the strict stay-at-home policies imposed upon New York. Unlike so many of my peers whose bane during the pandemic was boredom, mine was making time to get everything done each day. The days all blended together and there were times I had to remind myself what day of the week it was. Working with my long-time legal colleague Alan Feldstein in Los Angeles and my new colleague Shannon Montgomery in Houston, we kept on top of all the needs of our supplement industry clientele.
I also made time for my workouts. After training at the world-famous Bev’s Gym with a like-minded crew for over 20 years, I found myself pumping iron alone in my basement with equipment I cobbled together. Luckily, just as the coronavirus hit, I ordered a set of adjustable dumbbells and an adjustable angle bench before they became scarce at any price. I worked out daily at home, getting my cardio outdoors at the local bleachers or a steep hiking trail a reasonable drive away. I prioritized staying fit and healthy, and even added some muscle! On the issue of health, everybody is talking about what long-term lessons we can get from the COVID-19 pandemic. The acute precautions are undeniably important. But we really need to come to terms with the biggest long-term lesson of all: that poor diet, lack of exercise, insufficient rest and a sedentary lifestyle leading to diabetes and obesity together make us easy prey for viruses. In the years ahead, we as a nation need to accept greater personal responsibility to improve our overall health.
Now I find myself winding down my Bar Presidency, which ends on June 1st when my successor takes over. I’ll stay focused on my clients, my workouts, and finding my way through the post-pandemic legal landscape. It will likely be a long while before we have a sense of normalcy, and some things will never be quite as they were, for better or worse. But I look forward to seeing all my supplement industry friends again in the not-too-distant future at a trade show or conference, and hopefully have a drink or a meal in a relaxed setting and maybe even share a handshake or a hug.
Johnny Damon at the International Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
UFC Legend Randy Couture toasting to our favorite action films
Bar Meetings by Zoom: The new normal
Domus, the Home of the Nassau County Bar Association
Rick Collins, former Nassau County Assistant District Attorney, is a current partner at Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC and President of the Nassau Country Bar Association. His legal skills and ethics have earned the highest possible accolade, the AV rating by the Martindale-Hubbell directory of lawyers. He is also listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.