Women Lawyers and Politics 101 - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By L. Leona Frank

Have you been drawn to public service or have an interest in greater participation in the political process? Since the political process is largely subjective and we are taught as lawyers to be objective, it is important to understand how the J.D. hanging on your wall can interplay with your involvement and interest in politics. Since I am a solo practitioner, I called upon two friends in Indianapolis to assist me in providing different perspectives. Melina Kennedy recently filed an exploratory committee to run for Indianapolis Mayor in 2011 and is a partner at Baker and Daniels (large firm). Maura Hoff is an attorney with Lewis & Wilkins LLP (medium size firm) and is President of the Greater Indianapolis Republican Women';s Club. They shared some words of advice and personal stories that I can share in addition to my own.

  1. Educate yourself.
    We all understand the three branch system, but there is more knowledge to be had. You can choose to run for an office, to work on a campaign, to seek an appointment, to donate money, to lobby in a governmental affairs section, to work internally with your party or a combination of any. Every state has a different hierarchal structure and you need to understand what you are a part of and how politics works in practice. 
    • Network and make new friends that know more than you. A great way is to join a local "club" which is normally low cost. Check with your state and local party for more info.
    • See if your state has leadership training courses, normally partisan. For example, Indiana Leadership Forum and Lugar Series for Women are Republican year long political classes that cover everything from fundraising to message and media. The additional benefit is the speakers who tend to be influential and connected. A great bi-partisan campaign school for women is held each year by Yale, which may also be helpful in networking outside of state borders. Medium cost is normally involved.
    • Contact people that have ran for office for informational meetings. They are busy people but they LIKE to be accessible and are happy to share their experiences. That is how I personally met Melina Kennedy who was gracious enough to spend time with me albeit my party affiliation.
    • Attend meetings that are open to the public such as town hall, school board and city/town council meetings.
    • Read local, state and national blogs to learn about key players on the "who';s who" list. You will also learn the "political-ese."
    • Understand that once again, women are outnumbered in politics. According to Hoff, "Just like the legal field, politics has been historically dominated by men and will benefit greatly from an infusion of the female perspective . . . "
  2. Decide how much time (or money) you can devote.
    As Hoff suggests: "The time commitment you make has to be relative to your goals . . . If you want to hold elective office, you will likely need to suspend your practice temporarily in order to effectively campaign . . . " And let';s not forget the flip side concerning when political involvement can assist with your career as an attorney. Hoff states: "The networking I have done through political activities has led to new clients for my practice. It has introduced me to new areas of practice, including election law and municipal law, both of which I find very interesting and rewarding. Some clients appreciate getting to meet with elected officials, so having those political relationships helps me to provide that opportunity for them." In the end, it is up to you to decide whether politics is a hobby or a compliment to your practice.
  1. Communicate your goals to family, friends and firm.
    According to Kennedy: "My advice to female lawyers considering political activity is that they should feel encouraged to participate. They should talk to their respective employer to understand the landscape of their work environment and see if there are others within their work environment that may already be involved and be helpful in that regard." Your passion for politics will go further with the support of everyone. Make certain that you can clearly define the reasons for your involvement. For example, Kennedy is involved because she has a " . . . vested interest in the health of our community and a passion for the City';s well being. As a parent and a part of a family business, I feel even more committed to that."

So whether you goal is to run for office or run a campaign, all these tips will take you to places you may have never realized you would be. Recently, I was appointed by the Mayor of Indianapolis to the City Ethics Commission, which also had to pass City Council approval. A perfect position (in my view) to be involved because I can use my legal training for the greater good. We';ll see what';s next.

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About the Author

The author can be reached at (317) 259-9400 or via email at leonafrank@franklaw.org.

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