The Evolution of MSBA Advocacy
august 16, 2021
When the Honorable James McSherry, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, presided over the first meeting of the Maryland State Bar Association on August 28, 1896, the original Constitution of the new Bar Association provided no mechanism for the organization to directly influence the content or progress of legislation being considered by the Maryland General Assembly.
However, the Minutes of the earliest meetings of the Association indicate that the state of the law as codified was very much on the minds of the members of the new Bar Association.
During the first few decades of the existence of the MSBA, legislative matters were handled by the Executive Committee of the organization. Later, the Committee on Laws was created, whose role it was, and remains, to advise the MSBA Board of Governors on pending legislation in Annapolis affecting the practice of law and the administration of justice.
It is important to note that for most of the first half of the 20th century, the leadership of the MSBA was comprised largely of leaders of the largest law firms in Maryland. Moreover, the number of “interest groups” influencing lawmakers in Annapolis was relatively small compared to today. As a result, much of the MSBA’s success in Annapolis came as a result of bar leaders having close personal connections with legislative leaders in the General Assembly. Those connections led to a significant MSBA role in the early 1970s in the creation of the District Court of Maryland and the Court of Special Appeals. However, those events occurred just prior to the proliferation of “interest groups” in Annapolis during the 1970s and 1980s.
By the mid-1980s MSBA leadership had determined that because there were so many bills introduced before the General Assembly, and so many groups vying for the attention of lawmakers, the MSBA needed to adapt to the more frenetic pace of lawmaking in the state capital.
MSBA’s Modernizes Advocacy Approach with New Tools
More recently, the MSBA has taken its approach to advocacy into the future with the adoption of more tools and resources to ensure MSBA members are connected with Annapolis. In 2018, the MSBA introduced TrackBill, a legislation tracking solution which allows the MSBA to track and share key legislation as it moves through the halls of the legislative chambers.
In 2021, the MSBA added IgniteAdvocacy, a tool that allows the MSBA to engage members in grassroot campaigns to increase the profession’s impact in Annapolis. The acquisition of this tool was partly in response to the MSBA’s successful effort in early 2020 to defeat proposed legislation requiring taxation of professional services. Impacting legislation requires swift action and engagement from attorneys across Maryland, and the IgniteAdvocacy tool is designed to assist the MSBA in achieving those goals.
TrackBill / IgniteAdvocacy
Beginning with the 2018 General Assembly session, the MSBA began its partnership with TrackBill (a product provided by PolicyEngage), which has provided our legislative tracking and reporting software ever since. TrackBill powers the MSBA Legislative Action Center and Legislative Practice Area pages of active legislation during the Maryland legislative session.
Additionally, during the 2021 session MSBA utilized another PolicyEngage product, IgniteAdvocacy, which facilitates custom advocacy campaigns, such as the MSBA 2021 campaign asking the MD Department of Health to adhere to CDC Guidelines related to vaccine for lawyers returning to courtroom settings.
MSBA Engages Legislators at Annual Lobby Day & Coffee Chats
In addition to these virtual tools, the MSBA is also working to engage more with legislators in Annapolis. As part of this effort, the MSBA introduced its first Annual Lobby Day in 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, under past-President Hon. Mark Scurti, and continuing with the assistance of former Senator Bobby Zirkin, the MSBA has held several Coffee & Conversations with sitting legislators. These monthly discussions allow MSBA members to learn more about issues in Annapolis, and how they can become more involved.
MSBA / A2JC Lobby Day
During the last two General Assembly sessions, the MSBA embarked upon a campaign to enhance its visibility in Annapolis by partnering with the Access to Justice Commission (A2JC) in staging an in-person Lobby Day 2020, and an all-virtual Lobby Day in 2021. The purpose of Lobby Day is to enhance participation by MSBA members in policymaking activity by providing opportunities for members to meet face-to-face with key members of the Maryland General Assembly on selected issues of keen interest to the MSBA and A2JC.
Presently, the MSBA and A2JC are working diligently on plans for the January 2022 MSBA / A2JC Lobby Day. We are forging plans for an in-person or hybrid event (mix of in-person and virtual), but will be prepared to conduct an all-virtual event, should pandemic conditions preclude the possibility of an in-person or hybrid event.
MSBA Pursues Non-Partisan Interviews & Debates
The MSBA continues to evolve and expand it’s activity in Annapolis, particularly at the executive level. During the week of December 6, 2021, the MSBA in partnership with Stevenson University, held interviews with several candidates that have publicly announced their candidacy for Maryland Governor. These interviews were live streamed and recorded to provide MSBA members and beyond with more information about the various candidates.
The interviews, however, are just the beginning. In 2022, the MSBA is planning to hold several primary and general election debates. As an apolitical organization, the MSBA is excited to allow the candidates to discuss core issues that are important to the legal profession and beyond. Stay tuned for more information on these forthcoming debates.
Key Legislation with Significant MSBA Influence Since 1996
1997—Gross Receipts Tax—MSBA successfully opposed bill that would have taxed legal services.
1998—MSBA supported amendments to an ethics bill that would have required MSBA Section representatives to register as lobbyists.
- 1998—MSBA supported the establishment of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) Fund.
- 2000—MSBA opposed legislation that would have weakened the Single Subject Rule.
- 2001—Retroactivity: MSBA opposed legislation which attempted to undo court decisions by way of uncodified retroactivity provisions.
- 2004—MSBA supported legislation for increased funding of MLSC through filing fee surcharges.
- 2010—supported legislation to strengthen Maryland’s Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law by expanding SLAPP suit status to include communications by a party with a government body or the public at-large related to any issue of public concern.
- 2012—MSBA supported legislation from the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment abolishing capital punishment in Maryland.
- 2012—MSBA supported the Civil Marriage Protection Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in Maryland.
- 2015—MSBA supported funding for the Appointed Attorney Program, which provided funding for private counsel for arrestees at initial appearance before a District Court Commissioner (pursuant to Richmond II)
- 2016—MSBA supported the Justice Reinvestment Act, which was a sweeping criminal justice reform measure designed to reduce incarceration and recidivism by way of more equitable criminal charging and sentencing procedures, as well as greater emphasis on drug, and mental health treatment for nonviolent offenders.
- 2018—MSBA supported the passage of the Pretrial Services Program Grant Fund to provide grants to eligible counties to establish pretrial services programs, or to enhance existing pretrial services programs in a manner consistent with the provisions of the Justice Reinvestment Act
- 2020—MSBA successfully opposed legislation to expand the State’s sales and use tax to certain services—including legal services.