April 25, 2018 at 5:57 am
For those of you loyal readers of the BU Law Blog, you may have seen Brynn’s earlier post about the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform in Washington, DC. I also had the chance to head down to our nation’s capital last week and participate in the conference, which was co-sponsored by BU Law.
When Professor Kealy first sent out the email letting us know about the conference, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a few days in DC and hear from some of the experts who write the words that become law around the world. The agenda was packed with an interesting and diverse set of speakers who covered a wide range of topics relating to the creation and refinement of legislation.
I took the overnight Amtrak from Boston and arrived in DC to a spectacular spring morning. On the drive from Union Station to the conference at American University, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom as if to welcome the conference attendees in a uniquely Washingtonian way. Right off the bat, Professor Voermans from Leiden University set the tone with an interesting presentation on the balance between legislative efficiency and transparency. Of note, he cited Professor Kealy’s study of American legislative drafters to illustrate the role technology has played in the field. I have to say, it was pretty exciting to see my clinical professor’s work globally recognized; it just goes to show what a terrific opportunity the legislative drafting clinic is.
There were other great presentations, including U.S. Congressional and Senate drafting veterans discussing their experience with the demands of legislators who want bills written in impossibly tight timelines. They provided a glimpse into the practical realities of Washington, and how we, as the public, often think that laws should just magically appear when we want them. There were presentations on the legislative approaches in the EU, Ethiopia, and China. Still others discussed some of the hot topics of the day, such as ways that legislation can address climate change and the needs of post-conflict states.
Overall, it was an extraordinary privilege to sit in on some of these discussions as a law student and gain an appreciation for the technical and professional complexities that come with the work of making law. For those of us who took the legislative drafting clinic, we had some exposure to the effort that goes into each bill, though we mostly worked on a single piece of legislation. It is quite another thing to deal with demand of dozens of different constituencies, so it was fascinating to meet the community of a scholars and drafters who do so on a daily basis.
…and I finally got to wear my lapel pin.
After the conference wrapped up for the day, I had dinner out in town and took a walk around the capital. I felt that I had a different appreciation for the city and its inner workings. Among the neo-classical buildings, windows were lit sporadically, behind which government employees were likely burning the midnight oil to do the work of the people. As serendipity would have it, earlier that same day, the bill I wrote in the legislative drafting clinic was reported favorably out of committee in the Massachusetts State House. I am grateful that law school has given me the tools to do my part—perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, the bill I worked on will become part of the Massachusetts General Laws and I can count myself among those who have helped translate an idea into legislation.
By William Wilson | Posted in Clinics, Extracurriculars, In the Community
April 22, 2018 at 5:46 pm
Last week I had the privilege of once again attending the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform, held at the Washington College of Law at American University. I had attended last year’s conference along with several other alumni from BU’s Legislative Policy & Drafting Clinic; you can read that blog entry here. This time around I had the honor of participating in the conference as a panelist!
Several old favorites returned as speakers, such as the inimitable Judy Schneider, although the conference also featured a number of new panels.
Judy, a legislative expert at Congressional Research Service who co-authored the Congressional Deskbook, captivated the audience with her witty rendition of how Congress really works. Judy runs a boot camp for each new class of U.S. Representatives on congressional procedure. She shared with us the magic formula for passing bills that she gives to incoming members of Congress: You need the policy; you need the politics (though this is not to be confused with party politics); and you need the procedure. She went on to explain that most of us learned civics incorrectly—Congress was not created to pass laws, but rather “to prevent bad laws from being enacted”—then walked us through each chambers’ political and procedural hurdles in committee and on the floor.
I also really enjoyed a panel on Outside Drafters, which was new to the conference this year. The panelists were Rochelle Woodard, from the Department of Commerce, and Ronald Lampard, the Criminal Justice Task Force Director at the American Legislative Exchange Council. Both brought fascinating perspectives on drafting language for lawmakers, although neither worked within the legislative branch. Rochelle spoke of the challenges she faces as an agent of the executive branch whose job is to implement treaties and consult on export control, and discussed how she goes about balancing these responsibilities with drafting language for Congress that Legislative Counsel will inevitably review and revise. Ronald, by contrast, works for a national advocacy organization that drafts both model legislation and state-specific legislation for lawmakers. With respect to the latter, he emphasized the need for local buy-in and how he approaches collaborative drafting with stakeholders.
I had the great honor of participating in the last panel of the conference, Teaching Legislative Drafting, with my clinic professor, Sean Kealy. Professor Lou Rulli, who runs the Legislative Clinic at Penn Law, was also on the panel with one of his former students. Both professors spoke of the importance of teaching legislative drafting to law students and discussed their respective curricula. I talked about the bill that I drafted when I was a member of BU’s Legislative Policy & Drafting Clinic. My client was a State Senator who asked me to draft a bill from scratch, aimed at mitigating collateral consequences to incarceration in Massachusetts. I had a great time sharing my experiences as a student in the clinic and how the skills that I learned have come in handy during my externship with the Senate HELP Committee.
While there were far too many fabulous panels to highlight here, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the international nature of the conference. Half of the panels were dedicated to legislative issues that drafters in other jurisdictions face. I heard from drafters from Ghana, Ethiopia, China, the EU, and members of the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel. They spoke on topics ranging from telecom regulations in Uganda to public participation in the legislative process in Korea to promoting drafting uniformity in Australia.
If you are interested in gaining insight into the intersection of policy, drafting, and law reform, this annual conference is not to be missed! For information about future conferences, visit http://www.ilegis.org/.