Young Lawyers Advocate on the Hill During ABA Day

Vol. 39 No. 5

By

Raul Chacon, Jr., is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate, a 2013 ABA YLD Scholar, and an Associate with the Greenwood Village, Colorado, firm of Burns, Figa & Will, P.C.

On April 8–10, 2014, young lawyers joined leaders from the American Bar Association and from state, local, and specialty bars in Washington, D.C., for ABA Day. ABA Day is the American Bar Association’s annual lobbying day, and participants had the chance to meet with members of Congress to discuss issues affecting access to justice and the practice of law. This year’s ABA Day co-sponsors included the ABA Section Officers Conference, the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and the National Association of Bar Executives.

As in years past, this year’s ABA Day included lobbying efforts devoted to funding legal services corporations. According to Linda Klein, Shareholder at Baker Donelson, and this year’s ABA Day Chair, providing funding for members of the community who cannot otherwise afford legal services has been a focal point for ABA Day for years, and furthers the ABA’s mission of defending liberty and delivering justice, as well as its objective of assuring meaningful access to justice for all persons.

In addition, this year’s ABA Day addressed Congress’s consideration of tax reform legislation that would affect many law firms and other professional service businesses by requiring all such businesses with annual gross receipts over $10 million to use an accrual method of accounting instead of the cash method. The proposed legislation would require affected professional service businesses to pay taxes on income before it is actually received. If enacted, the proposed legislation would impose obligations on affected professional service businesses that would increase the compliance costs and cause substantial hardship by requiring affected businesses to pay tax on income they have not yet received and may never receive. As part of its goal in serving its members, the ABA elected to address the proposed legislation during ABA Day. First time attendee, Lacy Durham, ABA-YLD Secretary-Treasurer, said that she was especially interested in the issues raised by the proposed legislation because it was related to her area of practice.

There were also optional advocacy issues related to the Voting Rights Act and immigration. Although the ABA takes policy positions during ABA Day, the lobbying efforts are nonpartisan. Mario Sullivan, ABA-YLD Chair, noted: “We’re not promoting one party over the other; we’re promoting work that is important to the community as a whole.” The issues addressed during ABA Day, such as providing funding for legal services corporations, are opportunities to help the public at large and advance the stated missions of the ABA.

During ABA Day, young lawyers had the opportunity to meet and mingle with members of Congress. Andrew Schpack, ABA-YLD Chair-Elect, notes that, while that the opportunity to meet with members of Congress can initially be overwhelming, ABA Day offers attendees a chance to find a common connection with members of Congress that can help foster long-term connections. “You get a surprising amount of attention from members of Congress during ABA Day,” according to Schpack. Mario Sullivan, a third time attendee, noted that young lawyers are able to gain significant experience by attending ABA Day in successive years, “The first time, you have never been to the Hill to campaign, and so you sit back and see the interaction between the veterans and members of Congress. You begin speaking up more and putting in your own thoughts regarding the issues. Your confidence continues to grow the more times you attend.”

Apart from meeting with members of Congress, young lawyers had the opportunity to meet leaders of the profession from the ABA and other states. “For a young lawyer, having access to these people for two days is a big deal,” says Linda Klein. Lacy Durham noted: “What I enjoyed the most was having the ability to connect with ABA leaders. There’s really no other time when we have that kind of time to build that kind of camaraderie.”

ABA Day commenced on April 8 with a Capitol Hill Reception, during which, several individuals were recognized for their advocacy work and were presented with ABA Grassroots Advocacy Awards. This year’s Honorees included Mark Sullivan, Stephen Salzburg, and the South Dakota Bench & Bar. Following the Capitol Hill Reception, a Dessert Reception was provided.

On April 9, participants visited the Hill and made scheduled lobbying visits with their Members of Congress. During the evening on April 9, the Justice Awards Dinner took place, in which ABA President James R. Silkenat presented the ABA Justice Awards to Members of Congress in appreciation of their support for issues of critical importance to the ABA and the administration of justice. This year’s Justice Award Honorees included Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Attendees enjoyed a Breakfast Briefing and made additional visits with Members of Congress on April 10.

Young lawyers wanting to participate and contribute to ABA Day usually do so by contacting leadership of their state bar association. Each year, young lawyers are encouraged to register for ABA Day early and contact their state bar association leadership to coordinate their efforts. Apart from state bar associations, the ABA offers attendees a number of resources to make the most of their participation. According to Linda Klein: “There are individualized packages for each state, and we offer a training program for attendees. The most important thing that attendees need to do is get here.”

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