Report from Governmental Affairs

Guide helps state and local bars carry out effective lobbying campaigns

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Photo Illustration by Monica Burciaga

Issues advocacy has become one of the most important areas of cooperation between the ABA and state and local bar associations throughout the United States. And now the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office and the National Association of Bar Executives have collaborated to produce a guide to help bolster lobbying efforts by bars at all levels.

The “nuts and bolts” guide, which may be downloaded at no charge from the advocacy page on the ABA’s website, provides tools for state and local bars to engage in effective public policy advocacy on their home turf, including steps for achieving policy goals, mobilizing grassroots networks, and communicating through the use of social media. In addition, the publication offers tips for dealing with lobbying disclosure laws, political action committees and the nuances of lobbying at the federal and state levels.

The title of the book—All Politics Is Local: A Practical Guide to Effective Advocacy for State and Local Bars (PDF)—affirms the importance of lobbying at those levels. “It is our hope that this guide offers something for everyone,” wrote ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman in his introduction to the book. The title is derived from the oft-quoted mantra—made famous by the legendary Boston politician Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, who served as Democratic speaker of the House from 1977 to 1987—to emphasize the importance of advocating for issues that are significant to a legislator’s home constituency.

“Participation by state and local bars is indispensable to the ABA’s effective advocacy in Washington,” Susman says. “While the ABA is limited in its ability to reciprocate and engage in advocacy at the state level, this guide should help bars develop and implement local advocacy to advance their individual priorities.”

The book is an important guide both for veteran lobbyists and those just starting to engage in issues advocacy, says William K. Weisenberg, the former governmental affairs director for the Ohio State Bar Association in Columbus who now serves as special adviser to the ABA Standing Committee on Governmental Affairs. “Advocacy is a strong component to the work of the organized bar, whether on the state or national level,” he says.


As a joint product of the ABA and the Governmental Relations Section of the NABE, the new guide is the most recent example of the strong relationship between the Governmental Affairs Office and state and local bars. Since the GAO was created in 1957 as part of the ABA’s Washington, D.C., office, a primary focus has been to convey the association’s concerns and views to Congress and federal agencies on matters of importance to the legal profession. Also vital to the GAO mission is ensuring that state and local bar associations are advised of federal legislative developments and involved in the process through “alerts” calling for assistance on critical issues.

For the past 20 years, state and local bar representatives have joined with ABA leaders to participate in the annual ABA Day in Washington event held every spring. ABA Day, which has grown into a three-day effort, brings more than 300 bar leaders to Washington for face-to-face visits with legislators on Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of issues of importance to the profession. This year, the ABA Day event will be April 25-27.

Every fall, state and local bar representatives who work on legislative matters meet at the NABE Governmental Relations Workshop to network and share ideas. As part of the workshop, GAO staff brief them on state and federal legislative trends on issues of concern to the legal profession.

“It is important for the ABA and state and local bars to be there for each other,” says Kenneth J. Goldsmith, the GAO legislative counsel and director of state legislation. “To be successful in serving our members, we need to ensure that the assistance that state and local bars provide to us to support our mission is returned in ways that strengthen them as well.”

This report is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government. Rhonda McMillion is editor of ABA Washington Letter, a Governmental Affairs Office publication.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of the
ABA Journal with this headline: "Close to Home: The ABA and bar executives publish a guide to help state and local bars carry out effective lobbying campaigns."

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