Influence Your Lawmakers

Lawmakers listen to the needs and opinions of constituents like you to make decisions about legislation. Building relationships with lawmakers and their staff and telling engaging stories about the impact of legislative proposals on your law library and community make lasting change.

Deliver an Elevator Pitch

WHAT IS AN ELEVATOR PITCH?

An elevator pitch is a succinct and persuasive statement delivered to tell your audience who you are, what you do, and what you want. Often used in sales to sell a product, elevator pitches may be used in advocacy to sell a solution to a problem or offer a position on an issue. The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that your pitch should be short enough to deliver in span of an elevator ride, from 30 seconds to 2 minutes maximum.

WHY DO YOU NEED ONE?

Putting together a pitch will help you to better understand your problem, think about ways to “hook” different audiences, and present a solution. And once you’ve practiced pitching, you’ll be ready to seize opportunities for influence when they arise.

An elevator pitch can be used in nearly any advocacy effort, including campaigns for public law library funding; opposing the elimination of print legal materials; support for access to justice; and the need for trustworthy legal materials.

WHO IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?

Who do you want to influence? Elected officials, trustees, journalists, other library groups or potential coalition partners, and your supervisor are just some of the potential audiences you might pitch. You will likely use slightly different presentations for each audience.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

These tips will help you to master the perfect pitch:

  1. Practice your elevator pitch several times before practicing in front of another person.
  2. When practicing, deliver your speech without stopping, even if you have a few stumbles along the way. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. Once finished, critique yourself. Pick two things that you liked about the talk and one thing you would like to improve upon.
  3. Memorize as much as possible. You’ll be ready in any situation!

Email

Written correspondence is best for issues that aren’t urgent. Here are a few tips:

IDENTIFY YOURSELF

Remember: as the person responsible for electing your member of Congress, you hold power. Start each communication with your name and address so as to identify yourself as a constituent. In the text of the letter, explain your job as a law librarian or legal information professional and how the issue you are writing about affects you. If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Your letter should address only one issue and should identify the subject in the first paragraph. Articulate your support or opposition to the issue, explain how it would affect you, and ask your member to take a specific action or stance. If you are writing in reference to a particular bill, refer to that measure’s House or Senate bill number and title. The most effective letters are no longer than one page in length.

Don’t send form emails— they are often ignored. See AALL’s Legislative Action Center for sample letters to get you started, but consider adding personal experiences to make your letter much more effective.

Phone Calls

For urgent matters, we encourage you to make a phone call to your member of Congress’s Washington, DC or district office. To find your Senators’ and Representative’s phone numbers, you can check their websites or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

PLAN AHEAD

Telephone calls should be prepared in advance and cover only one issue. Before making a call, be sure to have a clear understanding of the issue, AALL’s position, the reasons for that position, and the action to be taken on the issue. It may be helpful to jot down a few notes before placing the call or use AALL’s talking points. Calls should last no longer than three to five minutes, unless the staff member wants to talk longer to gather additional information about the issue.

WHO TO CALL

When placing a call, always ask to speak directly to your member of Congress or the legislative staffer who handles the issue. If neither the member of Congress nor the appropriate staff person is available to speak (likely), you may leave the message with the receptionist. Ask that the information be forwarded to your member and request that the appropriate staff person get back to you with an answer on your member’s position on the issue. Then, let the Government Relations Office know about your call, including who you spoke with and how it went.

OTHER TIMES TO CALL

Most Congressional offices keep a tally of the number of calls they receive and about what issues people are calling. These numbers are a good reflection of the priorities and interest of their constituents. In addition to calling your member of Congress about urgent legislation, you can call the office to express thanks to a member who has voted in favor of your position. Likewise, if your member voted in opposition to your position, you may call to politely express disappointment and say that you hope to count on the member’s support on other issues in the
future.

Meeting with a member of Congress or Congressional staff is an effective way to convey a message about a specific legislative issue. You can visit your member on Capitol Hill or in his/her district office during recess. Consider the suggestions below when planning a visit to a Congressional office.

Host a Library Tour for Lawmakers

Hosting your elected officials for a tour of your library is a great way to educate legislators about the importance of law libraries, the work that you do, and the resources you provide to attorneys, judges, self-represented litigants, and members of the public. A tour can also provide an opportunity to advocate for greater financial support for libraries. Keep the following tips in mind when planning a tour of your library for your state legislators and members of Congress.

TIMING YOUR TOUR

The best time to invite a legislator to tour your library is when the legislature is out of session. Election season is a particularly good time as candidates will welcome the chance to meet with constituents, and the tour can provide them with desirable photos and news coverage.

Check Congress’ calendar and your state’s legislative calendar to determine the start and end dates of the session. If you plan to invite your member of Congress to tour your facility, do so when s/he is on recess and back in your district or state.

THE INVITATION

Begin by calling or visiting your state legislator’s office to ask for several possible dates when your legislator is available. Follow the call with a formal letter of invitation. Describe the facility, its operation, the number of employees, and its patrons. Provide your legislator with several dates and times and be prepared to answer questions from the legislator and his/her staff members. If more than one public official is invited for the same tour, be sure each knows in advance that the others will be included. Unless it is a major event such as an open house, plan
to invite one elected official at a time.

MEDIA OPPORTUNITIES

Prior to the event, consider sending a press advisory to local media announcing the tour. Coordinate with the legislator’s staff who will notify the media of dates and times. If you are handling press, send information to city desks at newspapers and assignment editors for local television and radio. You may also arrange for a photographer to be on hand to take photos of the event. Be sure to coordinate with your legislator’s office every step of the way.

THE TOUR

There are many ways to conduct a tour of your library. You can show your legislator special exhibits, materials from where s/he grew up or the district they represent, or topics of interest to them. If you can, find out if your legislator has any special interest (e.g. are they a lawyer? doctor? hobby gardener?) and show materials that relate. It is useful to provide handouts for the legislator to take home from the tour. These could include information on the number and type of patrons served; services used (e.g. how many hours are the computers in the library used); who uses the meeting rooms, and for what (e.g., job searches, job interviews, research into starting a small business, etc.); and other basic information about your library.

FOLLOW UP

Always send a thank you note to your legislator after a tour. Doing so helps to build a relationship—consistent communication is key. Be sure to also follow up on any media opportunities with your legislator’s office and provide any materials that were requested during the tour. As a library staff, you’ll want to debrief together following the tour.

MEET WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

PLAN AHEAD

Determine in advance which member or committee staff you need to meet with to achieve your purpose, and be clear about what it is you want to achieve. It is helpful to have a legislative “ask” to make of your member of Congress—i.e., the specific action you want your Senator and Representative to take. Consult AALL’s advocacy resources for priority issues and talking points. Please contact Emily Feltren, AALL’s director of government relations, if you need assistance.

SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT

When attempting to meet with a member, contact the Scheduler in the office you wish to meet. Explain your purpose and who you represent. Most importantly, let them know that you are a constituent! Many offices will require that scheduling requests be provided in writing. If this is the case, be sure to include all relevant information in your request, including who you are, where you live, when you want to meet, and what you wish to discuss. It’s a good idea to follow up written requests with phone calls to the office.

If your member of Congress is unavailable to meet at the requested time, you can instead meet with a member of his/her staff. AALL can advise you about which members of staff would be most helpful to meet for the issue you wish to discuss. Staff members will relay your concerns and opinions to the member of Congress. Treat these meetings just as you would a meeting with your member—they are equally important and often more productive!

BE PREPARED

Bring materials with information supporting your position to leave behind with the member of Congress or his/her staff, such as AALL’s advocacy one-pagers. It is helpful to share information about the pros and cons of a particular matter with your member of Congress so he/she can make an informed opinion. It is also helpful to know the opposing view so you can rebut the other side. Be sure to share your personal experiences with your member.

FOLLOW UP

Send a thank you note to whomever you met with in your member of Congress’s office. Include any follow up materials you offered to provide. Please use AALL’s report-back form to let us know how it went and if any follow-up is needed.