We in the public affairs program of the state bar hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to help shape public policy by participating in the legislative process. And when it comes to lobbying for either you own legislation or state bar positions, following a few common-sense guidelines can make our efforts more productive and less frustrating.
Spend Time Preparing—In making decisions, legislators rely heavily upon information they receive through correspondence and committee hearings. If you are well prepared, you will be well-received. When appearing in person, take extra copies of written testimony with you.
Know the Players—Developing a relationship with the key parties who have interest in your issues is helpful. Also get acquainted with the legislators who represent your community. They can often provide invaluable entrees and guidance when you get stuck in the legislative maze. A few probing telephone conversations with legislative observers can secure useful information.
Maintain Your Credibility—Be candid and avoid making demands or overstating the truth. An effective witness is regarded as a valuable resource. Most legislators respond best to well reasoned arguments.
Be Concise—At the legislature be direct and to the point as you help the decision makers fill the information gap with facts. Even a beautifully packaged pitch will fail to get off the ground if it lacks substance. So focus on your primary message and leave your shotgun at home.
Demonstrate Positive Advocacy—Whether you are supporting or opposing legislation, remember that a positive approach works best because legislators are trying to solve problems. There is little tolerance of unconstructive naysayers. In fact, taking a posture of total opposition may even arouse hostility.
Persistence Pays Off—Not giving up is frequently what makes the difference. The outputs of the legislative process can almost always be traced to tenacious advocates.
Cultivate Constituencies—Try to attract a variety of supporters for your legislative proposal or position. Key legislative staff members and interested citizen groups should be courted. Bills are often torpedoed by interested groups which feel like they were excluded from the formulation of the policy. When appropriate, try to recruit bar committees to your cause.
Monitor the Status of Bills—Closely and continually follow the progress of your legislation. Do not lose sight of your legislation until it has actually been signed into law by the governor. The legislative process if founded upon the principle of incrementalism and numerous pitfalls await the unaware participant. And as Lew Rawls would say, always be aware of deadlines.
Consider Fiscal Implications—Neglecting any fiscal considerations is one of the quickest ways to put legislation on a dead end path. (This advice is more pertinent than ever given the budget deficits projected for this years legislative session.
Recognize the Art of Compromise—Be willing to compromise because getting part of what you want is better than getting nothing.
Please accept this invitation to grab the ears of your lawmakers and try out some of the techniques outlined above. Our public decision makers are usually anxious to obtain the kind of insightful data which often can be best provided by lawyers.
Members of the bar should feel an overriding interest in a well-briefed and informed Legislature. Even if you and your clients also have less selfless reasons for trying to influence legislation, your skilled participation in legislative affairs will indirectly also benefit the bar.