Ten tips for using lawyers on your campaign

Ten tips for using lawyers on your campaign – Opinion

Andrew Upton

Every political campaign faces numerous legal issues. From election laws to campaign finance statutes to contract negotiations to First Amendment issues, a campaign must navigate local, state and federal legal requirements.

The role of the lawyer in a political campaign is often misunderstood. To use them most effectively requires a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. The following tips should help consultants, candidates and campaign managers know when a lawyer can and cannot help.

1. Get a lawyer who knows you. Lawyers on political campaigns primarily give advice. If the candidate and the campaign manager don’t like the lawyer, they’re likely to ignore the lawyer’s advice. Hire someone you know and like, and build a solid relationship with your lawyer. When crunch time comes, you know you are getting advice from someone on whom you can rely.

2. Trust your lawyer. In attorney-client relationships, lawyers can legally keep many of their clients’ innermost secrets private. A lawyer can face professional sanctions for leaking information. Use this confidentiality in internal debates, and consider having your lawyer issue statements and respond to the media in certain situations.

3. Keep your lawyer lawyering. Just as the field staff always has an opinion on media strategy, campaign lawyers often weigh in on strategic or tactical issues that have no legal ramifications. Because lawyers are trained in argument, advocacy and persuasion, they often receive unwarranted deference from staff. Make sure you listen to people with experience and credibility on campaigns when it comes to campaign strategy, not just people with a persuasive manner and academic credentials.

4. Keep your lawyer on a budget. Lawyers generally charge by the hour, and fees can range into hundreds of dollars per hour. You must set strict budgets and pay close attention to billable hours. Many attorneys will charge discounted rates or flat fees to political campaigns, so negotiate these options when you can.

5. Don’t “over-lawyer” the issues. Lawyers are trained to analyze every angle of a problem and conduct detailed research to support their conclusions, which can take more time than a campaign can spare. It’s essential to agree with your lawyer on deadlines for the delivery of memos, opinions or documents to be filed. Otherwise you might get such things too late to be useful.

6. Don’t get overly litigious. The instinct to sue is particularly American and can be a tempting reaction to many campaign crises. A candidate in the heat of battle is likely to perceive slander, defamation or numerous other legal issues on short notice. While it’s important to analyze every possible issue, it’s also important for a campaign lawyer to act as a check against impetuous instincts. An experienced attorney will know when legal action can serve your immediate political goals and when it won’t.

7. Use the power of stationery. Lawsuits and threats of lawsuits are increasingly common in campaigns. Suits for defamation based on the content of television ads, libelous direct mail and even suits for trespassing when your campaign staff confronts an opponent at their headquarters, are no longer uncommon. A strong response from your attorney is often enough to stop some of the more frivolous actions.

8. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. While lawyers are invaluable, they’re not infallible. Fortunately for you, there are plenty of them. Don’t be afraid to get another opinion when your lawyer gives advice you question. A good attorney should not be afraid to have to back up his opinions.

9. Use your lawyer as a spokesperson. Journalists are more likely to defer to a legal expert, and the public is less likely to doubt a lawyer who speaks on behalf of a campaign. Your statements and defenses to accusations may ring more true when they come from a lawyer.

10. Use your lawyer(s) for fund raising. Lawyers always know other lawyers who are interested in politics and government. These relationships form a natural fund-raising base. When your lawyer tells another lawyer that he is working on your campaign, it gives the fund-raising pitch more credibility.

Andrew Upton is an attorney with Holland & Knight in Boston who works in the firm’s public policy and regulation group. He frequently advises political campaigns, candidates, political action committees (PACs) and ballot question committees. Before he became a lawyer, Upton worked on more than 50 national, state and local campaigns for Democratic and non-partisan candidates.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

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