Report from Governmental Affairs

Advocate for important issues by engaging Congress online at ABA Day 2021

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ABA Day on ipad

Photo illustration by Sara Wadford/Shutterstock

The ABA works hard to serve as the voice of the legal profession on Capitol Hill, but the most important voice members of Congress want to hear is yours, their constituent’s. Senators and representatives need to hear directly from you to help shape their opinions on developing policy issues.

That is why the ABA has been hosting an annual advocacy conference since 1997 called ABA Day, where hundreds of ABA, state and local bar leaders and members have gathered in Washington, D.C., to talk to members of Congress about issues important to the legal profession.

For 2021, the ABA again had to cancel the in-person portion of ABA Day because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With congressional offices remaining closed to the public for the last year, the ABA also has had to adjust its advocacy strategy and techniques. We now look forward to hosting our second fully virtual event in April, building on the successes and lessons learned from last year and helping ABA Day participants do the same so that together we can advance our issues in the digital space.

This year marks the 25th ABA Day. The ABA Governmental Affairs Office looks forward to hosting, on April 20 and 21, thousands of bar leaders, attorneys, law students and other legal professionals as they connect with their members of Congress both online and in their home districts where conditions allow.

The importance of our constituent engagement with elected officials cannot be overstated. Three years ago, over 300 ABA Day participants successfully lobbied Congress and helped preserve the Legal Orientation Program, which each year provides legal rights presentations and self-help workshops to more than 50,000 detained migrants nationwide.

Last year, instead of having more than 300 ABA members in Washington, D.C., thousands of legal professionals engaged online through live panels, Twitter takeovers, tweetstorms and virtual meetings. The result? Three weeks after our event, the House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, a major COVID-19 relief bill that contained many of our advocacy issues, including increased funding for legal services for low-income Americans; student loan debt relief; help for homeless veterans; and more funding to expand internet access to rural America.

This year, the ABA’s goal is to support the voices of the legal profession even more. How? By learning from the past and expanding for the future. We will continue to provide the training, issue papers for meetings, online communication tools and panel discussions on which our members rely. We have, however, shortened the formal programming to half-day schedules, added congressional and nonlawyer leaders to the agenda, reduced the number of advocacy issues and created more sample products that participants can use in their states, including letters to the editor, impact video clips and thank-you notes. Knowing the first session of the 117th Congress will be busy, we are also planning to add a second association-wide advocacy event this summer or fall for other key issues expected to develop.

Our first advocacy event in April will focus on getting relief to those devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Low-income Americans desperately need access to legal help to respond to unprecedented housing, employment and health care challenges, so we are fighting to increase funding for the Legal Services Corp. Young lawyers, along with millions of other Americans, also need relief from onerous student debt obligations, and this issue will be addressed in a subsequent association-wide advocacy event.

ABA members, along with state and local bar leaders, have been the heart and soul behind ABA Day and its 24 years of proven success, and we urge you and your colleagues to join us again this year. This is your opportunity to engage on issues important to our profession and to the communities we serve. We need all our collective voices to show Congress what a united legal front can do! Visit ambar.org/abaday to learn more about this year’s events.

Don’t have time to attend the entire event? Then sign in when you can to quickly advocate on this year’s issues. Preformatted emails, phone call scripts and social media posts are posted on the ABA website. This type of coordinated campaign will flood member offices with every type of communication and compel the Hill to listen to the voices of their constituents and our legal profession. To start helping now, join our ABA Grassroots Action Team at ambar.org/grassroots or follow [email protected]

This report is written by the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA.

This story was originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “ABA Day 2021: Advocate for important issues by engaging Congress online and at home.”

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