Becoming a lawyer means developing a keen understanding of state and countrywide laws and how they work. That goes without saying that anyone looking to graduate from law school should also be interested in changing the legal world for the better and helping people from all walks of life.
Lawyers don’t just fight for individual cases and ensure their clients receive fair representation. Many lawyers in the US work as legal advocates and go on to help lobby for and against a variety of policies affecting people at the state and national levels.
After all, a desire to enter the courtroom to uphold justice should be a key reason to want to graduate in the first place!
However, the work of a legal advocate and how lawyers can continue to uphold the rights of people who need extra support can get a little complex.
Let’s look at how law graduates can, firstly, become legal advocates and how they can continue to protect people from all walks of life once they pass the bar.
What does a legal advocate do?
A legal advocate represents someone else’s rights or needs within the legal system. They typically advocate for people who cannot obtain legal aid for themselves due to financial issues, lack of knowledge, immediate need, etc.
They often help children, accident victims, prisoners, disabled people, abused people, and others who cannot represent themselves in a court of law.
For example, a victim’s advocate works for people who have suffered from abuse and might not have the fortitude to stand up for themselves. Advocates support such vulnerable people through legal processes that might otherwise be confusing.
In many cases, advocates will work on behalf of such people to fight for the compensation they are due as a result of negligence and harm caused to clients’ livelihoods and comfort of living. However, advocates play a vital role in helping to influence how case law is handled and processed in the future.
The US Constitution itself is fairly steadfast and requires intensive debate to change, US legislation, much like laws elsewhere in the world, is rooted in precedence. All it takes is one large case to send ripples; for example, the famous case of Roe v. Wade (1973) altered abortion laws in the country for decades.
Advocates can take on singular cases or may choose to fight larger battles to help shape policy.
Legal advocates set out to make sweeping changes to US policy in the name of groups that otherwise would struggle due to long-standing laws and statutes.
One of the most interesting things about legal advocacy is that it can occur in various legal areas. For example, legal advocates can work in family, environmental, and contract law.
Therefore, advocates are typically highly educated. In fact, it might take years of study and legal experience before a graduate becomes confident and competent to work on behalf of people at this level.
Can law graduates become legal advocates?
It’s certainly possible for law graduates to enter into advocacy as a priority when they first enter the workforce. While they might take on cases to help boost their profiles and casebooks upon first leaving college or university, pursuing advocacy is often a more admirable move.
If you’re wondering what you can do with a law degree, there are plenty of opportunities to explore via modules such as those set up by Cleveland State University. In fact, CSU offers an Online Juris Doctor (JD) program, which teaches the core legal concepts and professional competencies required for a career in law.
Graduates might pursue advocacy and issues that matter to them on the sidelines. However, before entering into any type of advocacy and pushing for legal reform, it’s important for students and graduates to research how such advocacy works in practice.
How do legal advocates support people?
As mentioned, legal advocates typically have more intensive experience than lawyers fresh out of college; however, they pursue similar lines of action in court. An advocate, for example, is seen as more knowledgeable than a law graduate, meaning they can be relied upon to produce more in-depth cases.
Here are a few of the most common ways a legal advocate can support people and potentially influence the laws that affect us all.
Provide legal advice.
The first major thing legal advocates do is offer legal advice and information to their clients and those in need.
Most people do not know of and/or understand the ins and outs of the law, what it means for them, and their rights.
Therefore, legal advocates are pivotal in helping individuals understand their rights, responsibilities, and position within the law regarding their specific case. Explaining complex legal concepts and informing their clients can help them make more informed decisions about their legal issues.
Advocates understand that everyday people and groups can face extremely complex or broad subject matters through no fault of their own. Therefore, advocates are educators in their own right, both for the people they represent and the courtrooms they attend.
It’s not unheard of for advocates to produce advice and arguments that set new precedents and open people’s minds to changing policy.
Produce extensive research.
Legal advocates take the time to conduct legal research and investigations for their clients. They do so to determine the case’s merits, gather evidence, and build a strong case for the people they work hard to represent.
As part of their research, legal advocates often have to interview witnesses, gather documents, and analyze the relevant laws and regulations for the case.
Again, law revolves around precedent, meaning advocates work hard to analyze relevant cases that have come before them to understand specific case law more closely.
In many cases, advocates will already be knowledgeable and experienced enough in a specific area of law to confidently represent people without the need for much research. However, it is always recommended!
As the profession’s name suggests, a legal advocate’s main role is to advocate for their clients! Meaning they are there to advocate for their client’s interests and rights.
Advocates work tirelessly to ensure their clients receive fair treatment in legal matters. It can involve negotiating settlements, advocating for policy changes, or fighting for their clients against unfair practices.
Advocates also care deeply about wanting to influence policy and legislation, meaning they will take on cases that matter to them personally or philosophically. Many advocates just starting out might not have much say in what cases they take on; however, experience is a big factor in flexibility.
Provide emotional support.
Being a legal advocate is not all about research and fighting. A big component of being a legal advocate is providing emotional support for clients, particularly as they represent cases that are often emotionally charged and socially important.
Dealing with a crisis and the legal issues that ensue can be extremely difficult for individuals and, thus, emotionally challenging. Legal advocates often emotionally support their clients simply by carefully listening to their stories and concerns, reassuring them, and helping them navigate the stress of legal proceedings.
As mentioned, advocates are sometimes considered “legal educators” because they help their clients understand their place in the US legal system and can raise issues with the court (and juries) that receive little representation.
We cover a few ways in which legal advocates can influence society, policy, and legislation a little further down.
Through legal processes, legal advocates keep their clients informed about their position, their rights, their options, and possible outcomes; they also empower them to make the most informed decision possible and take an active role in their legal matters.
It’s reasonable to expect a few people looking for legal representation to understand the finer intricacies of US case law. In this case, an advocate is there to represent them and their arguments and reassure them in light of the complex movements in their cases.
Make social services referrals.
In some cases, legal advocates will inform clients about protective options available through social care.
These can include housing assistance, counselling, or healthcare to ensure the client is safe, has what they need, and is out of the situation that may have caused their legal issues.
It’s another example of how advocates push for change not purely at the legislative level but on a personal level with their clients.
Why might a law graduate want to become an advocate?
There are many reasons why a law graduate may want to become a legal advocate. However, for the most part, legal advocates study further as they are passionate about social justice and stand up for those who have no one else to defend them.
Legal advocates get to help people in civil rights, human rights, environmental justice, and other areas. And as mentioned above, they help vulnerable, marginalized, and underserved populations.
They work directly with individuals and communities, providing immediate assistance and support. In doing so, they can help to make sweeping changes across communities, regardless of their specialties.
Therefore, being a legal advocate is the perfect position for any law graduate with strong core values and ethics who wants to feel personally fulfilled through a law career.
Can lawyers change public policies?
Legal advocates and lawyers can certainly influence and change public policies; however, it’s a route that will take time, effort, and passion. That said, making changes to outdated policies is extremely rewarding.
Lawyers often need to collaborate with others and explore many different avenues to eventually achieve their goals. It’s widely agreed that, to change public policy, lawyers need to continue learning and developing long after they graduate from college or university.
Influencing public policy is also a matter of knowing who to speak to and which avenues to take. Below, we explore how lawyers can make changes in their own right at various levels.
Lawyers choose to change public policies not purely to protect their clients’ needs and advance their agendas but also to ensure the broader community receives just support.
How can lawyers change public policies and laws?
As mentioned above, there are various avenues that lawyers may have to explore to change public policies and laws. Let’s take a quick look at how they can make such changes in practice.
They can become lobbyists.
Legal advocates often become lobbyists people in law who work alone or in groups who hire them to work directly with legislators to help change policies.
They help to influence government officials and policymakers on behalf of a specific cause, person, interest, or organization. Lobbyists have access to government officials, including members of Congress, regulatory agencies, and other decision-makers.
They use this access to present their clients’ viewpoints, share information, and build relationships with policymakers to help persuade them to take actions that align with their client’s goals and needs, often with societal needs.
They can work pro bono for advocacy organizations.
Simply put, when law graduates work pro bono, they work for free, helping those in need. One of the best ways to do this is by working pro bono for advocacy organizations.
Across the nation, many advocacy organizations always need keen and talented lawyers to help them achieve their goals and help the people relying on them.
Organizations such as Her Justice work to help women, in this case, specifically in New York City, who are suffering from poverty and/or domestic abuse. The lawyers and advocates are, therefore, on hand to provide free legal advice, orders of protection, information about divorces, social services, immigration, and more.
Other organizations focus on social crises and human rights violations. For example, Human Rights First works to help those whose human rights have been violated or are at risk. It can include refugees, victims of hate crimes and extremism, and people who have suffered from discrimination.
By working pro bono for organizations such as these, lawyers can help ensure those in desperate need of their help are cared for, spoken for, and defended in whatever way they need it.
Lawyers working for free help to give legitimacy and protection to advocacy organizations in dire need of a voice.
They can take up public interest litigation.
Lawyers can also work in public interest litigation. Public interest litigation, or PIL, is typically used to challenge laws or current policies that do not work in the general public’s best interests.
These cases can revolve around environmental purposes (such as pollution, damages to ecosystems, etc.), consumer protection, transportation systems, employment, and the legislation of entire cities (regarding waste disposal, air and water quality, pollution, etc.), with state courts even coming into play further down the line.
If they choose to, lawyers can work on behalf of these cases deemed to be in the global interest of people and entire communities to help make significant and important changes.
They can influence people and public policy via the media.
The mass media, including social platforms and online discourse, can be essential tools for lawyers, especially those looking to change public policies and laws.
Lawyers aiming to change policies can reach out to various media outlets, such as newspapers, websites, and TV networks, to bring their case to the public, provide essential information and education to the masses, and make commentary and analysis on various public issues.
In doing so, they are helping the groups and advocacy organizations in need of assistance; they’re providing support to encourage policymakers to take notice of the issues at hand and make changes for the greater good.
They can provide expert testimony.
In some cases, lawyers will need to provide expert testimony in broad criminal or civil cases. They can offer critical insight for the court into why certain policies do not work or do not work in a just and excusable manner.
They can also shed light on the abuse of the policies taking place and how it affects their clients and others in similar positions. As mentioned earlier, this is a potential route for lawyers to help shape legal precedent for years to come.
Legal reform and advocacy are always necessary.
Legal reform is vital in any society. Laws exist to protect citizens and general human rights. Yet, we still live in a world where many people receive poor representation from long-standing statutes and precedents.
That is where lawyers, advocates, and law graduates come in they can fight for the vulnerable and help change the lives of the few that may impact the lives of the many.
If you’re a recent law graduate, consider following advocacy routes; you never know what you might change for the better further down the line. It will mean considerable study and research, but you’re doing incredible work for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to protect themselves.