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.
Legal advocates play a pivotal role in upholding justice, ensuring fair representation, and advocating for the rights and interests of individuals within the legal system.
With their expertise spanning diverse fields, legal advocates serve as crucial mediators, negotiators, and advisors, guiding clients through legal challenges and safeguarding their rights. Through legal advocates, more just legal outcomes can be achieved and the principles that underpin our legal system can be better maintained.
Let’s talk about what being a legal advocate means, and why you might consider becoming one.
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:
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.
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:
Tenant advocacy is the dedicated effort to safeguard the rights and interests of renters within the realm of housing. Advocates serve as intermediaries, ensuring that tenants are provided with secure, affordable, and habitable living conditions. Through education and outreach, they help tenants understand their legal rights and responsibilities. These advocates play a pivotal role in addressing conflicts between tenants and landlords, assisting in matters such as rent disputes, maintenance problems, and unjust evictions.
Collaboration with nonprofit organizations, legal clinics, and community groups is common. They often engage in public campaigns to improve awareness about housing challenges and advocate for policy changes that uphold tenant rights. In particular, they focus on supporting vulnerable demographics, including low-income families and those facing discrimination.
By providing legal representation, they help tenants navigate the complexities of the legal system, working towards just outcomes. In essence, tenant advocates empower renters to voice their concerns, navigate housing intricacies, and contribute to the enhancement of equitable housing practices.
An example of this in action is advocates running tenant advocacy projects (TAPs).
A tenant advocacy project is an initiative aimed at supporting and empowering renters by providing legal assistance, information, and resources to address housing-related challenges. These projects focus on educating tenants about their rights, offering guidance during disputes with landlords, and advocating for fair housing policies.
Wrongful conviction advocacy involves dedicated efforts to rectify cases where individuals have been wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit. In these instances, law and legal studies students will typically be supervised by a law professor and take on the case as part of their law school education and training.
Advocates work to raise awareness about the issue of wrongful convictions, support exonerees, and push for legal reforms to prevent future injustices. They collaborate with legal organizations, non-profits, and community groups to scrutinize questionable convictions, identify flaws in the criminal justice system, and advocate for the use of evidence-based practices. Wrongful conviction advocates may engage in public campaigns, petition for policy changes, provide legal assistance to exonerees, and work to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent and rectify miscarriages of justice.
At One Legal’s 2023 Legal Up Virtual Conference, we had the pleasure of welcoming Michael Semanchik of the California Innocence Project for our opening keynote speech. This is a great example of a wrongful conviction advocacy program.
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.
Disability advocacy involves actively promoting the rights, dignity, and well-being of individuals with disabilities.
Advocates work to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to opportunities, services, and accommodations, while challenging stigma and discrimination.
They collaborate with disability organizations, legal entities, and policymakers to raise awareness about disability issues and advocate for policy changes that enhance inclusivity and accessibility. Disability advocates may assist individuals in navigating complex systems, such as healthcare and education, while also promoting changes in workplace environments to accommodate diverse needs.
They aim to empower individuals with disabilities, promote their autonomy, and foster a more inclusive society that recognizes and values their contributions. Through public awareness campaigns, legal advocacy, and community engagement, disability advocates strive to create positive change and dismantle barriers that hinder the full participation of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life.
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 and the rights the rights, support, and well-being of individuals affected by cancer. They work to ensure that people diagnosed with cancer have access to quality healthcare, accurate information, and appropriate treatment options.
They also strive to raise awareness about the physical, emotional, and financial challenges faced by cancer patients and survivors, as well as promote policies that address these issues. Cancer rights advocates collaborate with healthcare professionals, patient support organizations, and policymakers to improve cancer care, research, and access to resources.
They may also focus on issues like insurance coverage, employment protections, and patient privacy. Through public education, lobbying efforts, and community engagement, cancer rights advocates aim to create a more compassionate and equitable environment for those affected by cancer, empowering them to navigate their journey with dignity and support.
Child and family advocacy involves championing the rights and well-being of children and their families. Advocates work to ensure safe environments, education access, healthcare, and supportive policies. This includes child welfare, education equity, parental rights, healthcare access, nutrition, early childhood development, juvenile justice reform, foster care, family support services, legal representation for children, domestic violence prevention, immigrant and refugee children’s rights, economic security, and international children’s rights.
There are many areas of child and family advocacy, including:
Many progreamns 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.
Advocates work to ensure that victims’ rights are protected, their needs are addressed, and they receive the necessary resources and support to heal and recover. This includes providing emotional support, information about legal options, guiding them through the criminal justice system, and helping them access services such as counseling, legal assistance, and financial support.
Victim advocates collaborate with law enforcement, legal professionals, social services, and community organizations to ensure that victims are treated with dignity, empathy, and respect, and that their voices are heard throughout the process. The goal of victim advocacy is to empower survivors, promote their well-being, and help them navigate the challenges they face after experiencing a crime or traumatic event.
There are a number of victim advocacy groups in California, including:
Mediation advocacy involves representing and advocating for clients in mediation proceedings. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process where a neutral third party (the mediator) facilitates communication and negotiation between parties to help them reach a mutually agreeable resolution. Mediation advocates play a crucial role in ensuring their clients’ interests are represented effectively during these sessions.
Resolving legal disputes can help 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.
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 not that much.
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.
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