As a legal professional, perhaps becoming a legal advocate has always seemed too daunting to consider. Or perhaps you’ve never heard or thought about being a legal advocate.
Let’s talk about what being a legal advocate means, and why you might consider becoming one.
What is a legal advocate?
A legal advocate works within the legal system on behalf of another person to advocate for their rights or needs. These representatives advocate in particular for members of underserved communities.
Some types of parties that you might advocate for in the legal industry include:
- Abused women
- Accident victims
- Disabled people
- Low-income tenants
- Crime victims
- Parties to legal disputes
Legal advocacy jobs can involve many areas of law, from family law to contract law and environmental law. Being an advocate can be an extremely rewarding experience.
What do legal advocates do?
Legal advocates perform a wide variety of tasks for clients, depending on their background, interests, and needs.
Areas of advocacy include but are not limited to:
Helping low-income tenants settle legal disputes with landlords, as one Harvard Law School student did recently through a movement known as the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP).
The TAP helps low-income tenants living in subsidized housing who are facing eviction, subsidy termination, or application denial.
Other legal advocates choose to assist those who have been wrongly convicted of a crime to try and prove their innocence. In these instances, law students will typically be supervised by a law professor and take on the case as part of their law school education and training.
Sometimes celebrities use their voice to become advocates. In 2018, Kim Kardashian successfully advocated for the release of a grandmother serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.
Certified Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Advocates help disabled individuals fight for their rights to be treated fairly and justly in the U.S. judicial system.
Lawyers, paralegals, social workers, guardian ad litems, and psychologists can all undergo training to become Certified ADA Advocates to give the disabled equal access to legal resources and help them get a fair hearing under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Legal advocates working in cancer rights law advocate for people who have been diagnosed with cancer who face issues with their finances, health insurance coverage, and employment.
Child and family advocacy
Other legal advocates focus on family law, as the organization Unchained at Last is doing by pushing for an end to child, arranged and forced marriages in the U.S.
An estimated 85,000 Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers help abused and neglected children navigate the family court system, adjust to new foster care homes, and transition to new schools.
Victim advocates work in nearly every branch of the criminal justice system, and law enforcement agencies hire them to serve as liaisons to investigators to assist them in working cases. Prosecutors and district attorneys frequently maintain victim advocacy offices to provide support to crime victims and witnesses and help them find their way through the legal system.
Some legal advocates are hired to act as mediators to resolve legal disputes, to avoid the time and expense of a court trial. Minor disputes that might otherwise take months or longer to be resolved in the traditional legal system can reach a much faster and less adversarial conclusion this way.
How can I become a legal advocate, and what does it pay?
If you are interested in becoming a legal advocate, you might consider volunteering first in a niche that you are particularly interested in. While most legal advocacy jobs demand at least some legal experience or education along with a willingness to learn, some require a law degree.
Law students sometimes choose to become legal advocates as a way to gain valuable experience. Legal advocates typically must pass a background investigation, be drug tested, and receive on-the-job training once hired.
Depending on the type of work required and how the organization is funded, legal advocacy jobs pay a relatively modest amount – sometimes next to nothing.
Some legal advocates are unpaid and choose to volunteer their time for a cause that is important to them. These volunteer roles can lead to paying advocacy jobs, based on experience, and are not typically listed in one central location. Instead, they are part of a network that allows advocates to move on to paid positions once they have spent time volunteering.
Do you have anything to add about becoming a legal advocate? Tell us about it in the comments!