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Jill M. Kastner is the Editor of The Affiliate and an attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
By Jill M. Kastner
As the ABA works toward its national Lobby Day in Washington, D.C., many young lawyer groups are working on the state or local level to give their members an opportunity to meet and lobby local elected officials.
“It is extremely important to get involved in politics because elected officials shape the policy and laws that affect our personal and professional lives,” said Joseph Hall, a member of the ABA YLD Affiliate Assistance Team. “By setting up meetings and working with legislators and policymakers, there is an opportunity for young lawyers to shape the future.”
Affiliates can help young lawyers make a difference by organizing a local Lobby Day with state officials or by doing something less formal, such as setting up networking events with local elected officials.
Why Young Lawyers Need to Be Involved in Lobbying
Whether you do transactional work, litigation, bankruptcy, family law, and so on, your job and your clients’ lives and businesses are directly impacted by the laws on the books and the new laws and rules being made. Although some of us live and breathe politics, many would prefer not to touch it with a ten-foot pole. But the truth is, politics is where our laws are written.
“It is very important to have our voices heard before a law is passed,” said Joe Hall, who is also an active member of the New Attorney Advancement Task Force in Rhode Island and on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. “Lawyers are held to a higher standard in ways other professions are not,” because lawyers help to shape the laws that govern everyone.
Although written with the best of intentions, many laws have unintended consequences on the legal profession and our clients. “A lobbyist recently told me a story in which a law was passed with good intentions and bad results,” said Joe. The lobbyist explained to Joe that “it has taken several years to undo the damage and their work still isn’t complete.” This result could have been avoided if lawyers had taken a more active role.
Joe, a young lawyer in private practice, knows firsthand how his involvement in lobbying efforts has directly impacted him personally, professionally, and impacted the community. Joe has been directly involved in setting up meetings and teleconferences with elected officials to further his practice area (debt collection) and to have a voice on upcoming legislation. “This has generally taken place with my own legislators or those representing the towns within my school district.”
“You can educate [officials] on an area of practice or on existing law that may impact legislation to enhance the legislative process so laws are more meaningful,” Joe recommended. “Also, it allows you to provide insight on the activities in other jurisdictions in a relative area and the subsequent results.”
Why Your Affiliate Should Get Involved
Young lawyer groups can do a great service for their members, the profession, and the public by providing young lawyers with the skills, knowledge, and access to elected officials.
Serve the Community by hosting events, such as the Massachusetts “Walk to the Hill” (see page 5), in which lawyers promote access to justice and funding for legal services corporations that serve the poor. Young lawyer groups can also take on other important local issues, such as the unauthorized practice of law and outlawing scams in which non-attorneys are taking people’s money for providing inadequate “legal advice.”
Serve the Profession by taking on such issues as full funding for the courts and full hours so that services are not cut.
Serve Your Members by providing opportunities for young lawyers to meet and network with local elected officials and administrators. YLDs also can provide training to members on the “Do’s and Don’ts of Lobbying” or ethics CLEs on the rules and ethical considerations of lobbying.
How Your Affiliate Can Get Started
Training: A CLE or soft skills course to help train your young lawyer members about lobbying and the related rules can be put together like any CLE. If your bar association employs a lobbyist, that is a good person to invite. Also, it can be helpful to invite an elected official to give his or her insights on what works and what doesn’t work in terms of persuasion.
Networking/Lobbying Opportunity: These events can be anything from a formal event in which one or more elected officials is invited to discuss a specific issue or issues to an informal networking event in which local officials are invited to a happy hour. These are particularly easy to set up with officials (and candidates) up for election.
The key element to these events is that your organization does NOT take any official position on an issue—and certainly does not endorse any political party or candidate. Instead, the purpose is to set up an event in which young lawyers are able to meet with elected officials and have a discussion. If you are part of a mandatory bar with dues that cannot be used for lobbying or political activities, this may be an ideal way to provide your members with an opportunity to network with local officials without running afoul of your funding rules.
When hosting these events, you will want to:
Lobbying Activity: For these types of events, your group is gathering young lawyers to advocate a specific position on an issue. You can organize a group to go to the official’s offices or invite the official(s) to one of your meetings.
Some suggestions for setting up these activities include: