(Approved by LAAC Board, April 2004)
As a statewide membership organization of individuals and programs that provide legal services to the poor, LAAC serves as a unified voice for the California legal services community. In keeping with its mission to increase access to justice, the Board of Directors has prioritized increasing LAAC’s advocacy capacity. The LAAC Board adopts this Advocacy Policy in order to ensure maximizing the impact of LAAC advocacy efforts, while ensuring the effective use of LAAC resources.
This policy sets guidelines with respect to issues that fall within LAAC purview, and sets a structure through which LAAC can decide whether or not to take a formal position in the context of: 1) pending legislation; 2) Legal Services Trust Fund Commission /State Bar/Court action; and, 3) litigation through amicus briefs, and requests for publication.
LAAC should engage in advocacy efforts when the issue:
- Is broad-based and impacts a wide cross-section of legal services organizations;
- Is specific to California, as opposed to of national importance;
- Impacts legal services organizations’ ability to serve clients, as compared to impacts clients generally;
- Impacts access to justice, the justice system, or the interplay between justice systems within the State; or,
- Has been designated as a specific priority by the board based on economic or social circumstances within the state.
Examples include: funding; court accessibility; phony legal aid issue; solutions to statewide issues such as resolving rural resources disparity; development of senior hotline as a new model of service delivery (recognizing that some of these issues have to be handled as potentially “controversial”)
Procedure for Deciding Whether to Take a Position on an Issue
Generally, LAAC should take a position on any matter that is likely to have a significant impact on the delivery of legal services in California and little or no controversy within our membership.
All issues should be brought to the Policy Committee at least a month in advance of the requested action. In order to avoid taking a position that does not appropriately weigh all issues, as a general rule LAAC will not take a position on matters raised on less than seven days’ notice.
LAAC will never take a position until the policy committee has a firm grasp of the issues, based on review of all relevant documents and (when appropriate) communication with colleagues that have expertise in a given issue area.
When in doubt, LAAC will err in favor of NOT taking a position.
If all of the above criteria are met, the Policy Committee has authority to make decisions on an ad hoc basis on behalf of LAAC, with an email to the full board giving reasonable advance notice advising of the issues and the position recommended.
The written position will be given to the Policy and Executive Committee for review.
If during this process any controversy or conflict surfaces, the matter shall be handled under the guidelines below.
Position is Controversial or can be Construed to be Against the Interest of a LAAC Member
The committee must give the full Board sufficient time to comment and to identify LAAC members and outside experts that should be contacted about the LAAC position whenever a matter is potentially controversial.
Appropriate “outside” expert advice must be obtained in the case of potentially controversial matters.
The committee must personally contact all LAAC organizational members that they believe might have an adverse reaction to the position.
If there is compelling reason to take a position, notwithstanding an inability to fully vet the issue or significant adverse response to taking the position, the matter shall go to the full Board for consideration. A quorum of the Board shall decide:
- That LAAC should take no position because a matter is too controversial and it would be too divisive for LAAC to take a position against the wishes of some of its membership;
- That LAAC should take the position, and it is not so controversial that further investigation or discussion is necessary; or,
- That there is a very compelling reason to take the position notwithstanding that it is controversial. A majority of the board may require that the matter go by email to the full membership for comment 72 hours before taking a position.
If membership comment is mixed, then the matter must be put to the full Board to vote before taking a position. No position will be taken unless 3/4 of the board agrees that the position should be taken.
Roles and Responsibilities
Advocacy cannot be a priority unless the Advocacy Policy Committee/Executive Committee and the full board take strong responsibility for:
- identifying issues on the horizon;
- responding immediately to issues raised; and
- actively identifying/contacting key members of community to help frame issues and identify pitfalls/controversy.
At least one policy or executive committee member must thoroughly and separately review all of the key information upon which the position is going to be taken.
In some cases, it will make more sense for advocacy efforts to be spear-headed by Board or outside committee members, not staff.
It is critical that we build key partnerships so that we have better vision on upcoming advocacy issues, so we are planning rather than reacting. Key partnerships may include: State Bar SCDLS; State Bar; Funding Committee, Access Commission; Courts; Policy advocates and task forces, such as WCLP.