How to Advocate Effectively at the State and Community Level

by Joe Moseley, former state senator

Q: Why should lawyers involve themselves in the legislative process?
A. One answer is self-interest––a good court system is necessary for our system of justice and it benefits practitioners. A better answer is that lawyers are the best advocates on this issue. Legislators want to hear from people who know what they are speaking about, and when it comes to the court system, that means hearing from lawyers and judges. However, judges in this arena aren't quite as credible because they have a vested interest.

*Judges:
- want a well-financed system
- want a system that operates in the way in which they are accustomed

*Lawyers:
- have same knowledge base as judges
- represent the people that use the courts (who are constituents of legislators)

Q: Who do lawyers get involved with, and how do they get involved?
A: For the most part, legislators want to hear from their own constituents. Lawyers should go to the people who represent them―the senators and representatives from their district. You can get involved by simply making an appointment.

*Set appointment:

- Establish time period of meeting (10-15 min.).
- Ask for the best place to meet.

In their home district
Many legislators prefer to meet in their district, and that's the best place because there are a lot of distractions at the capitol. If you meet them on their own turf, you'll have more time and better attention.

In their Jefferson City office
Some legislators prefer meeting at the Capitol; they want to leave their work at the office. You'll have to travel to Jefferson City. Your time will be limited, as there are many distractions at the Capitol.

*Do's at the appointment:
- Keep meeting brief.
- Simply present information.
- Remember that legislators can make up their own minds.
- Enhance credibility by stating the opposing view points.
- Reiterate why your stance is more appropriate.
- A good time to stop the meeting is when and if the legislator agrees with you.
- Thank them for their time and leave.

But Don't: Argue

When to get in touch with the Legislator:
- A rule of thumb is that you should get in touch as soon as possible once the issue has been framed. Sometimes that's before the session has begun, if the bill has been pre-filed.

*Keep in touch:
- Legislators have hectic schedules; they may need reminding.
- If your legislator said his/her mind hadn't been made up yet, get in touch to ask whether any additional information is needed or if he or she has decided on a position.
- Stay in touch by making a phone call or sending a letter to be sure they are still committed, or if they need more time to decide.
- Open yourself up for any questions they have been pondering over.
- Be sure to state, “I hope I can count on your vote.”

Q: Should lawyers limit themselves to only those legislators who represent the district in which they live?
A: Sometimes those are the people who will most likely listen. However, they may not have much influence on the final decision. Some legislators are situated so that they have life or death control over certain bills―such as committee chairs. The majority floor leader, a speaker or a pro tem in the Senate would be in the same position. Even if a bill is voted out of their committee, a committee chair can choose to never report it to the floor. Somebody in the committee chair's district should make the contact. But if you are the person who knows the most about the bill, you should try to make an appointment with the committee chair, even if you do not live in the chair's district.

- Priority will be given to people who can vote for them – their constituents. - If you can't make an appointment, then an email or letter can be effective. - The letter should be short, to the point and convincing. - It might be a staff member who reads the letter. - The best way to have an impact on a legislative matter is to have face-to-face contact.

After the bill is passed, the next hurdle is the Governor. It doesn't mean anything if the Governor won't sign the bill. You need the Governor's approval.

*Tips on lobbying the Governor:
- Getting a personal meeting with the Governor is extremely difficult.
- Governors have very limited time.
- If an appointment is unattainable, write a brief, personal letter that is to the point.
- The number of letters can have an effect, but don't send form letters. Letters need to be personal, individual and brief.
- Some people have the personal contacts to get an appointment with the Governor's office. They may not see the Governor but instead see an executive staff member. Governors, like legislators, listen to the counsel of people who work for them.

*Advocating at the community level:
- Legislators are affected by public sentiment.
- Letters to the editor can have an effect on public opinion, especially if a number of different people write on a topic.
- Sometimes you can get a newspaper to run an op-ed you wrote.
- Personal appearances are the best way to influence members of your community.
- Community groups such as the Rotary Club, Cosmopolitans, Optimists, and the Lions Club are always seeking speakers for their programs.
- It's unlikely you'll be turned away if you have a legitimate program.
- Organization lists and contact info can be received by contacting your local Chamber of Commerce.
- PowerPoint presentations may be helpful.
- Be brief, succinct, advocate your position, mentioning and respecting the positions of others.
- You want your audience to go away from the meeting with the same beliefs you have on the issue. If they are in contact with their legislator or if they are asked on an opinion survey, they can become a worthy advocate for your issue.
- Leave them on an upbeat note.

Q. Why get involved?
A. It's the right thing to do. Even if you aren't successful in your first year, you are still part of the process, you're still doing important work, and it's a satisfying experience.