Tag Archives: legislator

10 Tips on Advocacy

Advocates are as diverse as the issues and groups they represent.  But there are some skills that every good advocate has in common — honesty, subject matter expertise, good judgment and communication skills.  As someone who spent almost eight years as legal counsel for the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee – the largest non-budgetary committee at the State House – I want to share some advocacy tips:

1. Don’t show your disappointment when a staff member substitutes for the legislator.  Even if you’ve confirmed that your meeting is going to be with the actual legislator the reality is that schedule changes happen.  If the House or Senate is meeting in a formal session, your legislator may be on the floor voting or an issue may have arisen in the district.  You also might actually be sitting down with the person – the staff member – who is the real expert in the office on your issue.   Don’t make assumptions or dismiss the person you’re meeting with just because they are staff and not the legislator.

2. Be clear, concise and compelling, but most importantly be truthful and factually correct.  A good advocate presents legislators with all sides of the issue and doesn’t try to sugarcoat one side over the other.  Have a strategy for dealing with both allies and opponents and be ready to give your best argument in favor of the bill and your best rebuttal to an argument against your bill.

3. Tell your story.  Explain how the proposed or pending legislation will affect you.  It’s helpful to frame your needs in terms of the legislator’s community or constituency.

4. Develop credibility.  Provide valuable information and build trust with members of the legislature and their staff, especially as it relates to your communications with them.  Legislators aren’t swayed by one simple conversation and effective advocacy requires more than a good sales pitch.  Your lawmaker is well aware that you are presenting one side, but major bills almost always have two sides to be considered.  In the end, the lawmaker has to make up his or her own mind.  That’s what they’re elected to do.  They shouldn’t just switch their vote based on who gives them the best story at the time.  A good lawmaker is going to look at both sides of the issue and see how it’s going to impact their constituents and the people of Massachusetts overall.

5. Repeat the process.  This means becoming aware of what else is going on in the context of the larger legislative agenda.  Is it budget season?  Is the legislature only meeting in informal session right now?  Do you know whether your bill requires a state appropriation in order to become law?

6. Have patience and understand timing.  Timing requires learning the sometimes mysterious ways by which the legislature conducts business.  It’s not enough to do all the right things; those things must be done at the right time and in the right sequence.  Sit down with the chair of the committee overseeing your issue before you request a meeting with the Speaker or the Senate President.  Trust me, the Speaker will ask if you’ve discussed this with his chairperson and a chairperson doesn’t want to be blindsided by a call from the Speaker on your issue if you’ve never taken the time to sit down with him or her.

7. Don’t play the name game.  Unless you are absolutely positive that your next door neighbor’s sister is a mutual friend of the legislator don’t name drop.  And, if you feel confident that you have a mutual friend, wait until after the meeting is over.  Thank the legislator for his or her time and then mention the connection.  A personal relationship isn’t going to influence the legislator.  If the relationship is a stretch it’ll appear that you’re trying too hard.

8. Maintain relationships, but be ready to cultivate new ones.  Things can change quickly.  Legislators face re-election every two years in Massachusetts.  Recently Senate President Therese Murray announced her new leadership team, including a new Majority Leader and a new Senate Chair of the Judiciary Committee, among others.

9. Don’t forget to make “the ask.”  Advocacy is based on action.  Once you’ve figured out your message and you’ve delivered it, make sure you ask your legislator for his or her support.

10. Say thank you.  Lawmakers have to balance a lot of worthy and competing interests.  While your issue is your first priority it may not be a top priority for your legislator.  If your bill doesn’t pass the first time it’s filed in the legislature, be gracious and wait for the next opportunity.  And if your legislator was helpful and did support your issue, remember that elected officials are like anyone else; they like to be thanked for their efforts.


– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Lawyer Legislators: Post Primary Recap

It’s encouraging to see that several lawyers remain candidates in races for statewide office following the state primary elections.  As mentioned last week, several veteran lawyer legislators have chosen not to seek reelection this year.  A notable loss is Senator Steven Panagiotakos, the current chair of the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, who announced earlier this year that is stepping down in order to pursue other challenges. 

In spite of these losses, the number of lawyer candidates that remain may not result in a net loss in the number of lawyer legislators in the State House.  In the House there are 10 lawyer legislators that are not seeking reelection.  Of those 10 seats, 6 do not feature a single lawyer candidate in the general election while 2 feature only lawyer candidates.  The other 2 seats have one lawyer candidate in the general election.  Additionally, there are 5 more races in which there is a lawyer candidate on the general election ballot.

In the Senate there are 4 lawyer legislators not seeking reelection. Half of those seats do not have a lawyer candidate and the other 2 races each have one lawyer running.  Interestingly, there are 2 current lawyer House members running in different open Senate races.

While the BBA has not and will not endorse political candidates, we commend those that choose to utilize their legal education and skills by becoming public servants.  Lawyers and legislators share the same drive: to use law to protect the public’s rights and to improve society.  Lawyers make good legislators no matter their party affiliation because the education and training involved gives lawyers analytical and oratorical tools that prove exceptionally useful in the legislature. 

Still, it requires an enormous amount of disciple and balance for lawyers to maintain an active practice and serve as a legislator (not to mention a healthy personal life).  A former lawyer legislator and reader who served 3 terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives noted in a comment on last week’s blog post that, “Combining a law practice with legislative duties is very difficult as the time demands of legislative business in Boston and of constituent servicing in the district are great.  Contrary to public perception, being a legislator harms, rather than helps, the development of the law practice as so much time is spent away from the office.”

Hopefully lawyers will continue to answer this call for public service by choosing to run for elective office.  Regardless of your politics, please remember to vote in the general election on November 2nd.

-Kathleen M. Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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Lawyer Legislators: An Endangered Species?

The BBA values its relationship with the Massachusetts Legislature.  Lawyer legislators, in particular, understand the issues important to the private bar.  A quick look at the bills that the BBA filed this past session shows that almost all of them were filed by the chairs of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.  The two chairs of that committee, by no coincidence, are lawyers.  Senator Cynthia Creem is a practicing domestic relations lawyer and Representative Eugene O’Flaherty is a criminal defense attorney.

In general, lawyer legislators are the exception to the rule.  It may surprise you to know that only 62 of the 200 legislators in the Massachusetts Legislature are attorneys.  That breaks down to 50 of the 160 House members and 12 of the 40 Senate members.  Law school, which was once a popular educational path to Beacon Hill, is no longer quite as common.  Today lawyer legislators are a minority among their colleagues.  This makes it increasingly more important to foster our relationships with those in the Legislature who understand the BBA’s issues like access to justice, criminal justice reform and even our complicated trusts & estates issues.  More and more we rely on lawyer legislators to educate and convince their non-lawyer colleagues that issues critical to the practice of law and the administration of justice demand action by Commonwealth.  It’s safe to say that the lawyer legislators we do have are overwhelmed at times with this task.

Recent events have shifted the political winds.  An independent political movement has shaken up some of the legislative races in Massachusetts this election season.  The next few weeks will be interesting.  Promising some turnover, there are 26 House seats and 8 Senate seats in which the incumbent is not running for reelection.  Of the 26 House members not seeking reelection, 10 are lawyers.  Half of those races don’t even feature a lawyer as a candidate.  On the Senate side, half of the 8 Senators not seeking reelection are lawyers and one of those races does not include a lawyer candidate.

Next Tuesday the 14th is the state primary and the general election is November 2nd.

-Kathleen M. Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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