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John Bair
John Bair
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Legislative Advocacy: A Primer

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It’s lobbying season, and if you live near your state capital or in DC, you may have noticed an influx of visitors. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA) recently held their Lobby Days in Albany, and the American Association for Justice’s Women’s Trial Lawyers Caucus will be holding theirs at the end of May in Washington, DC.

As American citizens, it is our privilege to be able to support legislation that matters to us, to our communities, and to the causes we believe in. For those who have never been civically active, though, it can be difficult to know how to lobby effectively for the bills that matter to you.

The following are a collection of tips that I’ve found useful when advocating for legislation that I support, along with some tips that have been gathered from various lobbying sources:

  • Figure out who your representatives are: This seems obvious, but I would bet that many people don’t know the names of all of their local, state, and federally-elected officials. To find the names of your elected officials:

o Local: Visit local Board of Elections office or webpage

o State: Visit your state legislature’s webpage

o Federal: Visit www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

  • Research the issues: Figure out which issues are important to you, then research where your elected representatives stand on the issues. Many legislators have websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds where they disseminate their views to the public on a regular basis.
  • Decide on your method of contact: Do you want to make a phone call? Do you want an in-person meeting? Do you want to just write a letter or email? Know what you are comfortable with, and clearly ask for it.
  • Consider timing: Because legislators face a barrage of requests for different issues, the best time to contact them may be when a bill pertaining to your topic is about to be introduced (or vetoed) or when the legislature is working through during budgeting process. That being said, the topic you are passionate about may not be one that has been presented to your legislator in the past, so the issue of timing may not be as relevant.
  • Know your endgame: Most legislators will not take the time to guess what you want, so be clear and concise. If you have written materials to leave with the legislator, they should be organized and well-written. Above all, make sure you have clearly communicated what you are asking the legislator to do.
  • Make it personal: Use real-life stories of those who are affected by your issue. These anecdotes help provide context and are a powerful way to get your point across.
  • Be respectful: Regardless of whether you agree or disagree on the issues, always remain respectful to your elected officials—it will give you a much better chance of having your voice heard.
  • Be willing to speak to a staffer: Legislators are for the people—which means that they are for all of their people. Their schedules are often very tight, and it can be difficult to reach them personally. Their staffers are up-to-date on the issues, and are the gateway to the legislator’s calendars and attention.
  • Be persistent: Refine your message based on any feedback you get and don’t give up. Gather allies for your cause, and if necessary, try to leverage media attention. Social media is a great way to broadcast your message to a broad audience. As previously stated though, make sure that your approach is well-planned, well-researched, and respectful.

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