Helping Congress Pass Good Legislation
One of the most important ways that the ABA serves the legal profession is through our top-notch legislative advocacy program, coordinated by the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. The ABA/GAO serves as the eyes, ears and voice of the organized bar in the nation’s capital. Each spring, leaders from around the country become a part of that advocacy body during ABA Day in Washington.
This past April 18-19, nearly 300 ABA, state, local and specialty bar leaders converged on Washington to discuss the legal profession’s legislative priorities with Congress and receive briefings from congressional leaders.
Bar leaders advocated during Hill visits this year on four issues: a significant funding increase for the Legal Services Corp., an immediate and substantial pay raise for federal judges, preservation of attorney client privilege, and comprehensive immigration reform. ABA Day in Washington was a great success due to the hundreds of participating bar leaders, the superb planning committee led by Stephen Zack, and the professional staff of our Governmental Affairs Office.
The GAO represents the ABA, the legal profession and the public in the halls of the Capitol throughout the year. Its legislative staff–working closely with the ABA Governmental Affairs Standing Committee–arranges for ABA witnesses to testify before congressional committees and other governmental bodies. They submit numerous written statements, position papers and letters advocating ABA policy to Congress. These professionals meet regularly with members of Congress to convey the ABA’s concerns and views on issues important to the legal profession, providing educational materials on important subjects. For at least 10 years, the advocacy work of GAO staff and members has been remarkably successful. Congress has adopted the ABA’s position on more than 80 percent of the legislation on which the GAO has lobbied. This is encouraging because the ABA doesn’t have a PAC, doesn’t contribute to candidates’ war chests and doesn’t endorse candidates. We remain nonpartisan and rely on the education we provide to members of Congress.
Among our recent legislative successes:
Legal Services Corp. Efforts by ABA and state/local bar leaders were instrumental in achieving the largest funding increase in years for LSC, and the highest level of funding since the program was severely slashed in 1996.
Youth at risk. Through the work of the Commission on Youth at Risk, GAO helped push for enactment of the Federal Youth Coordination Act that establishes a federal council to coordinate policy affecting youths.
Civil legal service for domestic violence. We helped get a $65 million increase in funding for civil legal services to victims of domestic violence.
Military and veterans. We assisted in the successful repeal of a 150 year old statutory bar against veterans hiring lawyers to represent them in VA proceedings. We also helped secure passage of groundbreaking laws to keep soldiers and sailors safe from predatory lending practices.
Promotion of diversity in the legal profession. Our efforts helped to ensure continued authorization of adequate funding for the Thurgood Marshall Legal Educational Opportunity Program, which is administered by the Council on Legal Education Opportunity.
The ABA’s legislative successes have benefited our society in many ways, but much more remains to be done. We invite you to become part of the eyes, ears and voices advocating on behalf of the organized bar. The GAO’s Grassroots Action Team makes it easy for you to serve your profession and get involved in your own area. For more information, visit the GAO at abanet.org/poladv.
The tenth in a series of columns that discuss how the ABA and individual lawyers serve our nation and the law.