The American Bar Association prides itself on being the national voice of the legal profession and focuses its advocacy efforts at the federal level. The ABA has been highly effective in this role in no small part due to collaboration with state and local bar leaders who provide constituent support and insights that Members of Congress want to hear. Our ability to respond to emerging legislation on the federal or state level is improved by our relationships with our sister bars. These relationships do not begin or end with a given legislative session. They develop over time, and this month was the 34th year in a row that bar leaders met at the National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) State Legislative Workshop (the Workshop) to continue a collaboration that supports mutual success.
The Workshop is an annual opportunity for national, state, and local bar association professionals to come together to share information, experiences, and best practices in an ever-changing political environment on issues that may impact the bar and the judiciary. What began as simple courtesy visits among friends has become the premiere conference for bar association government relations experts. Despite the Workshop’s importance and popularity, however, many are unaware of its roots or the issues covered.
Starting in the 1970s, state bar executives visiting their Members of Congress in Washington, D.C. would stop by the ABA office for briefings by the Governmental Affairs Office (GAO) on pending bills and issues to help provide a federal context for their constituent visits. By 1986, several bars began visiting D.C. together to help one another benefit from collective experiences and expertise. These informal meetings became known as the “Washington Workshop.” Initially, discussions focused on state interests in pending federal policy decisions. Over time, state bar executives started using the opportunity to discuss state issues like the taxation of legal services, unauthorized practice of law, and other bar-related topics with their colleagues. By 1999, the Workshop was more state-issue focused and became known as the NABE State Legislative Workshop. In 2001, the conference started rotating among state capitals, returning to Washington, D.C. in presidential election years.
From November 13-15, 2019, the 33rd annual Workshop was held in Denver, Colorado. As has become tradition, there were presentations on evolving trends and policy from the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Center for State Courts, and the Uniform Law Commission. Past presenters have also included diverse organizations such as the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the Brennan Center for Justice, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Goldwater Institute.
This year, the ABA Governmental Affairs Office provided attendees with an update on how to leverage technology in their governmental affairs work. State lawmakers provided an update on advocacy efforts to legalize cannabis and made suggestions for how the legal profession can best support the legislative process. Every attendee provided a brief report on lessons they learned from their wins or losses in their most recent legislative session, reports considered by most to be some of the most important information sharing done during the entire Workshop.
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s advice on winning was to skate where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. The State Legislative Workshop is designed to help governmental affairs and bar executives do precisely that, i.e., understand where trends may be headed so that when the need arises, we are prepared to respond and have friends on whom we can call for advice or support. The conference was open to all bar executives. With the considerable turnover among chief bar executives and lobbyists in recent years, the Workshop continues to provide an excellent opportunity to make new critical working relationships and build on existing ones at every level.
For more information about the Workshop, GAO’s support for the bar community, or the National Association of Bar Executives, contact Ken Goldsmith in the ABA Governmental Affairs Office at (202) 662-1890 or [email protected].