ABA Day in Washington: Your Opportunity to Shape the Legal Profession
By Mercedes Pino
Mercedes Pino is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is the assistant director of Career Services at the Touro Law Center in Central Islip, New York.
Ten years ago, in April 1997, the American Bar Association hosted its first “ABA Day in Congress.” The event brought more than seventy-five leaders to Capitol Hill. Organized by the ABA Section Officers Conference, with the support of the Governmental Affairs Office, ABA Day was designed to bring section leaders to Capitol Hill to discuss legislative issues important to their sections, as well as ABA legislative priorities. Last year, ABA Day brought nearly four times the original attendance—close to 300 bar leaders—to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, making it the largest turnout ever.
Last year, participants focused on the following issues with their elected officials in Washington: a significant funding increase for the Legal Services Corporation; reversing federal government policies encouraging federal prosecutors to require companies and other entities to waive their attorney-client privilege and work-product protections as a condition for receiving cooperation credit during investigations; urging senators to oppose S.354, S.22, and S.23, which would preempt state medical liability laws and limit injured patients’ rights to compensation; and supporting comprehensive immigration reform legislation that provides a path to permanent residence for undocumented workers currently in the United States. For more information or for resources on ABA Day 2006 “Priority Issues” and “Hot Topics,” visit www.abanet.org/poladv/abaday06/resourceshome.html.
Make Connections/Build Relationships
In addition to the “Priority Issues,” ABA Day provides an opportunity to address issues and topics that matter to you, your practice, your clients, and your bar association. As a young lawyer, ABA Day allows you to participate in the legislative process and help shape the future of the legal profession by making connections and building relationships with members of Congress and their staffs. ABA YLD Chair-Elect Justin Goldstein, of National City Bank of Pennsylvania, noted, “At some level, the bar is a trade organization and has as its goal the pursuit of justice. There is no better place that we can protect our profession and the public than in the halls of our nation’s capital. Having an impact on the issues of the day with those who shape policy is an incredible accomplishment. ABA Day provides this opportunity not just to Association leaders, but to its members.”
As former ABA President Dennis Archer once wrote, “Every spring, bar leaders from around the country have the unique opportunity to help implement the organized bar’s legislative agenda, receive briefings from congressional leaders, and meet with members of Congress and their staffs on issues important to the profession.” This spring, ABA Day is planned for April 18–19, 2007, and will include an optional Supreme Court Breakfast/Swearing-In Ceremony, an Interactive Lobbying Workshop, and Capitol Hill visits.
Learn the Issues
While the Capitol Hill visits make up the most important component of ABA Day, they may also be the most daunting for newcomers. With this in mind, the ABA provides the following guidelines for planning your meetings:
• Learn how the issues the participants will be lobbying on directly impact your state, your district, your clients, your law practice, and the justice system. Participants will be provided with talking points to assist them in intelligently discussing ABA Day issues with their members of Congress.
• Attend the ABA Day Opening Session. During this session, you will learn more about the substantive legislative issues that will be the primary focus of ABA Day 2007 Capitol Hill visits.
• Newcomers and ABA Day veterans are encouraged to attend the Lobbying Workshop, during which participants will learn more about how to effectively communicate the organized bar’s message during the visits, the importance of establishing and building relationships with members of Congress and their staffs, and how to have fun while doing it.
Make a Difference
ABA Day is a great way to make a difference for the people in your home state. “What better way is there, other than this face-to-face opportunity, to assure that our representatives in Washington, D.C., understand the needs of the justice system and the folks back home? Many past state bar presidents have told me the connections they made at ABA Day have benefited the cause of justice in their home states far beyond their expectations,” answered Justice Douglas S. Lang, president, National Conference of Bar Presidents, in response to being asked why state and local bar leaders should attend ABA Day. If that does not convince you, consider this quote by former House Speaker Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.”