ABA Day Digital hopes to expand reach of advocacy
For decades, hundreds of ABA members have descended on Capitol Hill to meet with congressional representatives and advocate for legal issues on ABA Day. The coronavirus pandemic has complicated this tradition—but not stopped it.
ABA Day Digital on April 22 and 23 will be the association’s first fully digital lobbying event. Organizers say the main difference will be its ability to engage many more members, who will be able to send emails, make phone calls and post social media messages on issues that are important to them.
“This allows us to expand the number of people who participate,” says Holly Cook, director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office. “It won’t just be the attorneys who come every year, which we greatly appreciate them coming and their impact, but the goal would be thousands of people across the country, in every state, flooding member offices at the same time, talking about the same issues for the ABA.”
Members who participate in this year’s coordinated online effort can advocate for four advocacy issues selected by the ABA Day Planning Committee, chaired by Deborah Enix-Ross, and the Governmental Affairs Office. They are Legal Services Corp. funding; Public Service Loan Forgiveness program funding; Department of Veterans Affairs access to legal assistance; and broadband access in rural areas.
Cook contends that these are significant issues in themselves, but the ABA also plans to highlight how the pandemic has impacted them.
“We look at, one, legislatively, what is going on that we think the ABA can make a difference on and that we have policy that we want to make a difference on?” Cook says. “And, two, what is the Hill listening to? What do they care about right now and is there a chance to effect change in this Congress?”
As an example, Cook explains that Veterans Affairs cannot technically provide legal services. The ABA has worked to change that and now members can specifically advocate during ABA Day Digital for passage of the Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act.
The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives, would allow the Veterans Affairs secretary to partner with public and private entities to provide legal services to veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The agency especially needs this discretion during the pandemic to help veterans overcome legal barriers that keep them from accessing housing and other benefits, Cook says.
“The bill has a small obstacle to get through the Senate, but we are hoping that with the ABA pushing it, we’ll get it over the hump,” she adds.
During ABA Day Digital, the association will connect each member directly with their elected officials and provide prewritten emails, social media posts and talking points. Members can also personalize their messages and include images and infographics that are available in the ABA Day digital toolkit.
In addition to advocacy, the conference will also include online meetings and panel discussions on other topics, including the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act and attorney-client privilege for inmates’ emails.
Cook says they hope to see more ABA members who have advocacy experience, as well as young lawyers, law students and even association staff, participating in this year’s ABA Day Digital.
“It’s unfortunate that Congress’ offices are closed, but I can’t imagine better conditions for trying to test something full-court, full speed ahead to see how it works,” she says. “It’s a good opportunity.”
Members and staff who want to participate in ABA Day Digital should visit ambar.org/abadaydigital.
ABA Journal: “ABA announces all-digital ABA Day, urges Congress to provide coronavirus relief to nonprofits and create task force”