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April 29, 2024

Easy Options for Civic Engagement

Civic engagement generally is any activity that you do that engages with others in the community, especially those in positions of power.

Civic engagement generally is any activity that you do that engages with others in the community, especially those in positions of power.

“Civic engagement generally is any activity that you do that engages with others in the community, especially those in positions of power,” said Allison Rosenstock, grassroots engagement manager in the ABA Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. It can be with elected or non-elected officials and includes everything from working with your PTA, homeowners’ association, city council, historic association or more.

There is “a lot of community building that we can do,” she said.

Rosenstock was a speaker on the webinar, “How Young Lawyers Can Be More Civically Engaged in Their Communities,” sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division.

She offered suggestions for how to get involved:

  • Hold a leadership position or run for office in your community. “The most meaningful change or change that’s going to affect your day-to-day life is going to happen at that local level,” Rosenstock said. Examples include running for town council, a leadership position with your local political party or a position on campus if you’re a law student. “Even at the local level, it takes a fair amount of funds, connections, resources to be able to run for even school board, for example,” she said. Start with volunteering for the local political party you align with -- “they will help bolster you as a candidate,” Rosenstock said. She added that this year’s national election is a perfect opportunity to get involved.
  • Build relationships. Make sure you have “multiple touchpoints” with your congressional representative, governor, mayor (or their staff). Check out “what resources are available on the ground around you.”
  • Testify as a subject matter expert. If proposed legislation intersects with your area of the law, you can fortify your connections by offering to testify about it.
  • Volunteer with an issue-area nonprofit. These groups always need help, and they will have grassroots advocacy efforts that you can take part in.

 “You will see direct change in your community by being more involved,” Rosenstock said, and she urged attendees to think broadly about community -- not just geographically but also projects you’re passionate about, schools you support and your professional affiliations and how you can make an impact within each of those.

Our government structure is set up for civic engagement, she said, adding that “it’s not a coincidence that every nonprofit and association has a fly-in, has a lobby day, has an advocacy day. That’s how our government is set up, and if we are not the ones bringing things to the attention of our elected officials and our community leaders then nobody will.”

Eric Storey, director of Grassroots & Digital Advocacy in the same office, focused on what the ABA has to offer for civic engagement:

Grassroots Action Center.  These resources “teach you how to get engaged and how you can actually use your engagement effectively,” he said. They will help you “be heard above the noise” by “leading with the fact that you are a constituent who is an issue matter expert and your exact field.” It has a lot of “information to get you up to speed quickly,” including, through a partnership with National Journal, a number of slide decks on current issues such as artificial intelligence. “We want to get you access to the most current information,” Storey said.

ABA Election Center. This one-stop shop includes a list of members of congress with JDs, congressional calendars, tutorials on how to get involved and more. You can check your registration, find your nearest polling place and get information on absentee and early voting in your state. To “take it to the next level,” there’s also Poll Worker, Esq., the ABA’s initiative on recruiting lawyers to be poll workers, and a free eBook: All Politics is Local.

ABA Day. The association’s largest annual lobbying day was April 10-11 this year. Hundreds of bar leaders and lawyers met with their representatives to advocate for legal aid and federal public defender funding, among other issues. The in-person event is over, but you can still get involved by visiting to access “robust online toolkits” to help you contact YOUR elected officials on issues important to the legal profession, including on student debt relief.

In addition, the ABA has numerous opportunities for civic engagement through pro bono work, including Free Legal Answers, Center for Pro Bono, Military Pro Bono Project, as well as efforts within many sections and entities.

Storey compiled a comprehensive list of resources to help advocacy efforts (PDF attached; John will know how to link to it if you, like me, don’t).

Dashawn Cason, an attorney with Heyl Royster in Peoria, Illinois, moderated the discussion.

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