Nothing stops a dinner party conversation quicker than when people inquire of your profession and you reply, “I’m a lobbyist.”
Lobbying gives people a certain impression – maybe created by movies or TV, or even by politicians themselves, who often swear off lobbyists on the campaign trail. As often the case, the perception is much different from the reality – and lobbying and advocating for justice and the legal system has never been more important.
About State Bar Lobbying
The State Bar of Wisconsin lobbying and government relations program is run much differently than other professional or trade associations.
Cale Battles is a senior government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
The State Bar of Wisconsin’s elected Board of Governors can take legislative positions of importance to the legal profession on behalf of the entire membership. Additionally, 15 of the State Bar practice sections have elected to participate in the lobbying program, allowing those section boards to take positions on behalf of their section members.
There are many layers of Supreme Court rules, State Bar bylaws, section bylaws, state ethics laws and even court cases that govern the State Bar’s advocacy program – but at the end of the day, this all provides an important voice for State Bar members in the State Capitol.
The State Bar is committed to the important role we play in positively impacting the legislative process on issues of importance to the courts, legal profession, and the public.
The State Bar employs Lynne Davis and me as two full time, in-house lobbyists. We monitor on average of 1,500 legislative bills introduced in each legislative cycle.
As lobbyists, we spend a large amount of our time calling, tracking, and contacting members, legislators, and legislative staff/support staff to gain information on the genesis of legislative ideas or for advocating on proactive legislation being worked on by section boards.
Recently, our department began releasing short videos in our bimonthly newsletter, Rotunda Report. My colleague, Lynne Davis, further explains the State Bar Lobbying process in our video, Overview of State Bar’s Lobbying Program.
Lobbying for the Elder Law and Special Needs Section
For the past four years, I have been assigned as the main State Bar lobbying liaison to the Elder Law and Special Needs Section (ELSN).
ELSN is one of the most engaged and active lobbying sections within the State Bar. I have learned they are fierce advocates not only for their clients, but also on how legislative proposals will impact their practice area, both positively and negatively.
In the past few years, ELSN members have been engaged on issues ranging from adult guardianship, elder abuse, Durable Power of Attorney issues, divestment changes, and many additional issues that are too long to list.
ELSN members have testified before legislative committees, drafted and circulated policy memos, engaged with agency leadership, and have been important partners in lobbying efforts for their section members.
The Advocacy Network
A new engagement tool for members of both the ELSN section and the State Bar is to become members of the State Bar’s Advocacy Network. Grassroots engagement is one of the most effective lobbying tools that our members can use.
Recently, ELSN members used the advocacy efforts earlier this session to express concerns with unintended consequences of proposed elder abuse legislation (such as AB 481 and AB 482), and board members attempted to persuade legislators to amend the legislation due to the section’s concerns. Section members were able to quickly and easily contact their lawmakers to express their opinions and concerns on the legislation.
These efforts open the door to continue communication and help to develop relationships that can pay off in the future as new legislation is developed.
Your Feedback Wanted
Attorney feedback and contact with legislators is vital to the legislative process.
ELSN board members are also a great conduit into the legislature and an important resource. The board has an active legislative committee that assists in the creation and vetting process.
If a section member has a legislative idea or issue, contact a board member or me for further assistance.
If members would like more information regarding the State Bar’s Advocacy Network, or to the subscribe to the bimonthly Rotunda Report, contact State Bar Grassroots Coordinator Devin Martin, and watch this Rotunda Report video on the program – Grassroots Advocacy: How to Help Make Change.
Even if the job title occasionally creates an uncomfortable pause, it has never been more important than now to advocate on behalf of the legal profession. Our members are great advocates for their clients and can do the same with policymakers.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Elder Law and Special Needs Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Elder Law and Special Needs Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.