The Equal Justice Coalition’s Walk to the Hill is coming up very soon – on January 30th at 11 a.m. at the Massachusetts State House.
While this lobbying event – one of the largest of its kind — is an opportunity to socialize, network and get your picture taken with your law firm, Walk to the Hill needs to be more than that. It’s great that lawyers show up en masse for the speaking program – this year Chief Justice Ireland, BBA President J.D. Smeallie and a legal services client are among those that will speak to the need for more funding for civil legal services. But let’s remember that even more important is your visit with your legislator. More than ceremonial, these visits really matter.
Here are a few tips to maximize your effectiveness at Walk to the Hill:
If you get to your representative or senator’s office and there is a long line of other lawyers waiting to deliver the same message, don’t be discouraged. Be encouraged! You live in a district full of people that care about this issue. But don’t assume that because there is a crowd your presence isn’t noticed – leave your name and business card with someone in the office with a note that you want the representative or senator to support legal aid. Numbers matter – the more people that leave their name, the better.
If your legislator is not available, speak to a staff member. In most cases the staff person is often the one with the most knowledge on an issue. Legislative staff welcomes the input of constituents on issues. Staff members often act as gatekeepers and make recommendations or put issues on their boss’ radar. Winning over the staff member is one of the best ways to win over the representative or senator.
If you learn your legislator does support funding for civil legal aid and you feel like you are preaching to the converted, take this opportunity to thank them for their continued support and ask them to do more. Ask the legislator to make funding for MLAC one of his or her top three budget priorities.
If you sense that your legislator could use more information about civil legal aid programs, follow up with facts easily obtained from MLAC. Funding for civil legal aid has been severely cut in recent years while requests for legal assistance have escalated to unprecedented levels.
If you’re a new lawyer, solo practitioner or part of a smaller firm, don’t be dissuaded from coming. Every year the BBA’s New Lawyer and Solo & Small Firm Sections meet as a group and head over to the State House together.
Prepare yourself with the most up-to-date information from the Equal Justice Coalition using this fact sheet and review their suggested talking points. This will allow you to make your pitch quickly while hitting all of the key points.
Walk to the Hill is more than just a symbolic showing of support for legal aid funding. It is a demonstration of the impact legal aid makes on peoples’ lives and the important role it plays in our communities. As important as the message is – legal aid is in crisis and the MLAC line item must be funded at $15.5 million for Fiscal Year 14 – personally delivering your message is even more important. This year we ask that you do more than show up – follow up with your representative and senator too.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association