Young Lawyers, Speak Up at ABA Day 2008
Alexander P. Ryan is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with the Groom Law Group in Washington, D.C.
As bar leaders, we all know that the American Bar Association serves many functions. The ABA provides—among other things—law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs for the bar and the judiciary, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. Another of the most important components of the ABA’s work is its legislative efforts on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Throughout the year, the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office in D.C. meets with Congress to advocate for issues that the ABA—and its members—deem important to the legal profession. The ABA’s efforts have proven successful: in the past ten years, Congress has adopted the ABA’s position on more than 80 percent of the legislation on which the Association has lobbied.
ABA Day in Washington, D.C.,which is sponsored each year by the ABA YLD, is a critical part of this process. Each year, bar leaders from across the country, including members of the ABA and state and local bar associations, gather for two days to meet with their congressional representatives about the issues that matter most to them and their constituents. “The ABA is successful because of the strength of our ideas, backed up with our constituent-based grassroots contacts. ABA Day encompasses both,” says ABA Day Chair Steve Zack, Miami, Florida.
This year, ABA Day will be held on April 16 and 17, 2008, at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. If ABA Day 2007, which drew approximately 300 participants, is any predictor, ABA Day 2008 promises to be a hugely successful event.
Traditionally, the Association’s ABA Day Planning Committee reviews numerous legislative concerns submitted for consideration at the event and narrows these to a manageable number for presentation to and discussion with Congress. For example, at ABA Day 2007, the ABA focused its efforts on four key initiatives: (1) funding increases for the Legal Services Corporation, (2) pay raises for members of the federal judiciary, (3) preservation of the attorney-client privilege, and (4) comprehensive immigration reform. ABA Day issues are selected based on a multitude of factors, including timeliness, likelihood of impact, the ability to educate on unfamiliar topics, and support within the bar.
Although the ABA advocates for legislative change all year long, ABA Day is particularly important because it provides a concentrated forum during which individual ABA members can voice their concerns directly to their congressional representatives. Typically, members contact their senators or representatives ahead of the event and schedule meetings on Capitol Hill regarding the issues determined to be vitally important to the ABA. In doing so, ABA members have an opportunity to explain why these particular issues are important to their respective states and districts. These personal visits with congressional representatives are the focal point of ABA Day. According to ABA Day Chair Steve Zack, “The most effective way to educate members of Congress on issues of importance to the organized bar is through constituent-based, in-person meetings. ABA Day is a critical part of the organized bar’s legislative efforts.”
Young lawyers, alongside their more senior counterparts, are an important part of the success of the event as they come to ABA Day prepared to give voice to the issues that concern their state and local bar organizations. Some come in groups; some come individually. All come with one singular purpose: to effect change by taking their issues straight to their congressional representatives. “ABA Day is critical because it highlights all of the hard work the Association is doing year-round to track and support causes which are important to lawyers, [such as] the rule of law, our judiciary, and the rights of Americans,” says ABA YLD Chair Justin Goldstein. According to Goldstein, young lawyer participation in ABA Day has been steadily increasing.
ABA YLD members have an even greater incentive to participate in ABA Day 2008 as the ABA YLD’s annual Spring Conference in Washington, D.C., will begin immediately after the conclusion of ABA Day. Therefore, young lawyers who plan to attend the Spring Conference can simply arrange to arrive in the Capital City a day or two early to participate in ABA Day activities. As Goldstein sees it, ABA Day “is an opportunity [for young lawyers] to use [their] contacts to get the ABA’s message out and to offer legal expertise to assist on issues before Congress.”
Because meeting with congressional members is the focal point of ABA Day, early preparation is critical. Those who plan to attend ABA Day should be sure to schedule their Capitol Hill visits well in advance of the event. ABA Day attendees should also try to coordinate their efforts with others from their state or local bar organizations. In addition, it is important for ABA Day attendees to participate in the various information sessions provided during ABA Day itself, which will help attendees prepare for meetings with their congressional representatives.
The ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office is available to guide ABA members in scheduling meetings with members of Congress, and the ABA’s website is replete with information about ABA Day 2008, including resources for scheduling and preparing for Capitol Hill visits. To register for ABA Day 2008 online, go to www.abanet.org/poladv/abaday08/home.shtml.