This year’s theme for the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association is “be heard,” and invited to the group’s monthly meeting on Thursday were two subject matter experts on being heard in City Hall and in Tallahassee.
City Council member Lori Boyer and Foley & Lardner Public Affairs Director Erika Alba comprised the panel.
They were joined by a surprise guest — state Sen. Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville — who offered her insights as well.
Jackson Lewis attorney and association President Jennifer Shoaf Richardson said that each year, members of the local and statewide women lawyers organizations go to Tallahassee before the legislative session to “walk the halls” to ensure lawmakers know where women lawyers stand on issues.
“If you really want to be in the process, become an expert in an industry,” said Alba, who began her career in public affairs law with Fidelity National Financial before the company moved from California to Jacksonville in 2003.
Boyer said building relationships is important and, in her case, relationships are best built outside City Hall.
“Broaden your participation beyond your practice,” she advised. “Get out into the community.”
With the large number of bills that the Legislature must evaluate each session, Gibson said taking advantage of the unexpected can make the difference in delivering your message.
“If you see someone in the elevator that you want to talk to, start talking,” she said. “That is serious time. It may be your only opportunity to get your point across.”
There are common traits among the most successful advocates, whether in public affairs or in the courtroom, said Alba.
“Lobbying is a lot like litigation. You have to be precise and you have to know your issue well,” she said.
Alba also said maintaining a high standard of ethics is critical.
“Always tell the truth. If someone asks about who is your opposition, tell them. That’s a discovery question,” she said.
“The first day you walk into the capital, you have your name and your integrity. Make sure you have that at the end of your career,” Alba added.
Gibson and Boyer pointed out that there aren’t enough women in elected office, either on the local, state or national level. Both offered their experience and advice to prospective candidates.
“If you are inclined to take a shot at running for office — do so,” Boyer said.