Be the Change: Why and How Solo & Small Firm Lawyers Should Testify on Proposed Legislation

As I mentioned in this post, I had the opportunity to testify before the Maryland House Government Operations Committee on proposed bill HB292 which would gather data on the race and gender of lawyers subject to disciplinary proceedings by Maryland regulators.  Although I’ve never testified before the Maryland legislature before, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Over the course of my career, I’ve testified before several Congressional committees on renewable energy and pipeline permitting, and been invited to draft and markup several different bills.

Me, Preparing to Testify via Zoom

Testifying on and drafting legislation has been one of the most rewarding activities for my practice.  We lawyers typically spend our time either following precedent or gamely trying to distinguish it if we want to get around it.  But the legislative process is a clean slate offering an opportunity to change the law outright instead of trying to merely avoid its application in a particular case.  Second, the legislative process is one venue that still truly values lawyers’ expertise.  Many legislators are not lawyers but nevertheless, are eager to learn about the practical implications or constitutionality of a desired approach.  Third, from a professional perspective, testifying on legislation has been a recognition of my subject matter expertise and recordings of a hearing like this impresses clients and is a great marketing tool.  Finally, even if you don’t have the chance to testify directly, writing an authoritative article that gets a shout out in the Congressional Record is equally satisfying (especially if you wrote the piece just two years out of law school).

So if I’ve whetted your appetite for testifying, how can solo or small firm lawyers find opportunities to do so?  Surprisingly, it’s not as difficult as you might think – and the advent of virtual hearings means that many testimony opportunities won’t take a huge chunk of time out of your day. Here are some quick suggestions for finding opportunities to testify:

  1.  If you track legislation in your practice area, reach out to the bill sponsor or legislative committee with jurisdiction over the matter and offer to testify or provide feedback on the legislation.  Often committees are grateful to hear from lawyers with expertise;
  2. Contact organizations that may be advancing legislation and ask whether they might want a lawyer with subject matter expertise to testify;
  3. Simply submit testimony on your own. Congressional committees often invite written testimony on all proposed legislation, and in Maryland you can sign up to give live testimony.  You don’t have to start from scratch in drafting testimony; if you’ve written articles or blog posts on a subject matter, compile and submit those;
  4. Most congressional and legislative committees have Facebook pages and LinkedIn or Twitter accounts, making it easy and less formal to reach out.

As a lawyer, how often have you told a client that you’d like to achieve a particular outcome, but the law simply doesn’t allow it? Testifying on legislation is an opportunity to be the change we’d like to see.