New Zealand Law Society - What to do when a legal problem becomes a lobbying problem

What to do when a legal problem becomes a lobbying problem

When considering impacting the legislative and regulatory environment, there are a number of things lawyers need to consider to ensure they get the ear of government.

Here are the 10 essentials.

1. Stakeholder mapping

This is not court. The most finely crafted letters, beautifully written submissions or brilliant oral submissions are unlikely to be sufficient in many lobbying situations.

Determine who you need to influence and who can influence them.

Exterior of the Beehive

Many people make the mistake of thinking it’s just about the minister. Sometimes that’s right, but even so, every minister has a staff and ministry officials. Ministers are surrounded by their Parliamentary and party colleagues as well. Among these people will be some key influencers. You may well be able to secure a 30-minute meeting with the minister, but consider the people who see the minister every day. They are often very powerful.

Any bill will go to a select committee. Do your due diligence on who is on the relevant committee so you can direct yourself to them as well, and not just in the select committee.

Theoretically, policy is set by the government, but the opposition and minority parties also have input.

Regulations often have little public input; getting to the ministry officials will be a precious chance to influence how policy is implemented.

2. Relationship building

Think about who you respond to – someone you know, like and respect, or someone completely unknown? Members of Parliament and officials are no different to you. So, consider building long-term relationships and building them across party lines.

In New Zealand the degrees of separation are small. Those you need to influence will have families, interests and pastimes that may allow you to connect with them, other than in their office.

3. Do the background work

Obviously, read relevant legislation and any bill. But there are other documents that could be useful including regulatory impact statements, cabinet papers, select committee, Attorney-General and Law Commission reports, the submissions of others, Hansard, and supplementary order papers, as well as ministry briefings, advice and reports.

Also read more widely than that. Trade magazines, media, blogs and more can give you vital insights.

Set Google alerts to give you real-time information on the area you are interested in. Know who is likely to agree with you and what they will say so you can work with them and, more importantly, who will disagree and what they will say, so you can effectively counter their arguments.

Consider researching similar international legislation. Understanding the different judicial and regulatory environments, and the practical experience of other jurisdictions, can lend significant weight to your messaging.

4. Know the system

It is imperative that you can work within the Parliamentary system so you can make an impact at the right time. Most lawyers understand how policy gets made and actioned. But also get to know the Parliamentary sitting times, order papers and follow the House business.

5. Put your politics aside

Putting the case for reform is not usually about your personal ideology, so park that. Understanding the politics of the situation is crucial.

6. Or don’t put your politics aside

Every political party considers policy. If you’re a member of a party, you can have impact on the party policy. You can also build valuable relationships, but keep in mind you’ll only be likely to be building relationships with one party. In New Zealand, governments change and if you have not built relationships outside of your own political sphere, you will find government relations more difficult at some point in time.

7. Be a problem solver

It is one thing to identify potential problems with a given policy or piece of legislative drafting. Show that you understand the underlying objective, and present solutions.

Put yourself in the shoes of the decision-makers. How can you solve their problems in the way that works for you or your client?

Consider drafting a bill or an alternative bill. Provide briefing papers that politicians can use, particularly in debates. Make them easy to understand. Don’t assume politicians know technical areas or legal niceties. Most law makers are not lawyers and many areas they deal with are outside their expertise. Help them understand.

8. Media and lobbying are best friends

The public is the biggest influencer for government. Sway the public and you have likely won. So, where appropriate, have a media strategy.

9. Play it straight

As per normal, don’t double-deal, don’t tell half-truths and don’t breach confidences. Once your reputation is mud, doors will close quickly and you’ll find it difficult to gain traction.

10. Know when to get help

Just because you know the law, doesn’t mean you know how to influence the politicians. Sometimes you may need help: go get it.

Deborah Hart is a consultant and a former lawyer,

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