Each November, the National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives (NATLE) and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) hold their annual Governmental Affairs Conference – commonly known as the GAC. This year, we sent our new Public Affairs Director, Todd Hauptman, to get the scoop on all things political, as we continue to develop our own strategy, here at TLABC.
This is what he had to say…
In his own words – Todd Hauptman
Have you ever imagined attending a conference full of the nerdiest individuals in your profession? The National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives (NATLE) Government Affairs conference was certainly that for me. I recently attended their conference in Seattle that hosted public affairs professionals for Trial Lawyers Associations from across the United States. I was the only Canadian in attendance so I felt as though I was representing an entire country. While the conference had a number of detailed and engaging presentations, the most beneficial part of me was the networking.
The network was helpful to not only learn best practices from other TLAs in their advocacy efforts to their elected officials, but also to better understand working within an association environment like ours. I spoke and spent time with colleagues from Ohio to Rhode Island to San Francisco and grew to appreciate each of their passion and determination. Many of these folks have been passionately fighting for access to justice issues for decades and they continue to do so. By having conversations with these folks, there is so much insight and experience to glean from. The most significant lesson from these political nerds was the importance of being determined in building solid, long term relationships with each and every one of the elected officials in our area. While there will be wins and losses in the fight for our public policy agenda, it is essential to look at the long game. I had the opportunity to see some of them in action on the phone with decision makers and they get things done for their members. These relationships took time to develop into a place where there can be mutual benefits. This may be the most significant lesson but there are others.
These relationships were built through a deliberate strategy that involved targeted political donations, delivering volunteer resources for campaigns and helping legislators push their agenda forward. While this is certainly in an American context, there are lessons for Canadians to learn. Certainly our donation limits are a lot less than the United Stations, money still talks in politics. It is important to donate to candidates in a strategic fashion. Strategic donations matters because the candidates need to know where their resources for their campaign came from. The NATLE conference reinforced for me the importance of finding common ground on our agenda and the legislator’s priorities. The issues that NATLE and TLABC are working towards should have support from all parties no matter where they are on the political spectrum. It was helpful to know that the strategies and approaches that TLABC is pursuing are on the right track.
The connections and relationships developed at NATLE will not only be once a year but in fact, I have a few meetings by phone or online with various colleagues to discuss mutual strategy. These ongoing relationships will be fruitful not just in my role but for TLABC as we move forward with our public policy agenda.
Finally, it is critical to note that like all of our NATLE friends, we must continue to be seen and heard by our MLAs. As a TLABC member over the holiday season, go to your MLA’s seasonal open house and have a friendly chat about the issues important to us, such as legal aid and wrongful death legislation. Be a friendly face that your MLA begins to know and appreciate seeing. While we may disagree on some issues, we can be allies on others.