Parliamentary law is the collection of laws, rules and procedures that organizations use to conduct business. Parliamentary law is the set of rules that a public or private group uses to conduct meetings or otherwise go about their affairs. Parliamentary lawyers facilitate the use of parliamentary laws. They also help their clients challenge decisions when the procedure used to arrive at those decisions may be in question.
Parliamentary law makes an organization run in a uniform way
All organizations must have rules for how to accomplish tasks. There must be a procedure for how to run a meeting. To function efficiently, there must be rules for how to introduce new laws or ideas. Organizations must have voting procedures for their membership.
It’s not enough just to elect representatives to a public or private body. Each governing body needs rules for how to conduct their affairs. Rules for conducting these affairs are critically important for the efficient operation of an organization. They’re also important so that those governed by the body or a member of the organization can have faith in the integrity and the legitimacy of the decisions that the leadership makes.
Who uses parliamentary procedure?
All government entities use parliamentary procedure. From the highest-ranking legislative bodies like the United States Congress and state legislatures to small municipalities, all public authorities rely on some kind of parliamentary procedure in order to conduct their business.
A person living in the United States may live under federal, state, county or parish and local government. Local government may be a city, village, township or other entity. Many people live in areas that do not have any government beyond their county or parish. Areas without local government are most often rural. Any division of government needs and relies on a parliamentary law system in order go about the business of governing.
In addition to government entities, virtually all private organizations also rely on parliamentary rules in order to conduct business. For example, a private homeowners association must have rules in order to elect leadership and pass binding resolutions. A church needs rules for choosing leaders and making decisions about church affairs. Even a school board relies on parliamentary rules for conducting its affairs.
Some of the organizations that rely on parliamentary rules include:
- Booster clubs and other fundraising organizations
- Corporate boards
- County governments
- Local government bodies like townships, villages and cities
- Homeowners associations
- Non-profit boards like museums and other community organizations
- School boards
- State legislatures
- United States Congress
Examples of parliamentary rules
Parliamentary rules govern a number of procedures that may occur within an organization. Parliamentary law may cover:
- Business to be conducted as listed on an agenda
- Electing representatives
- Making a motion
- Making a motion with unanimous consent
- Quorum requirements for voting
- Public input and participation
- Voting rules
Parliamentary rules exist in part to ensure that leaders don’t make it up as they go along. With uniform rules for how things should work, organizations can operate in a way that provides a transparent and fair process for decision making.
What are Robert’s Rules of Order?
Robert’s Rules of Order is a book of standard parliamentary procedures. U.S. Army Major Henry Martyn Robert first published the book in 1876. Robert created the book after observing that a lack of uniform parliamentary rules can inhibit an organization’s operation. Robert was in the military, but his rules did not necessarily reflect rules used in the military. Many organizations use Robert’s Rules of Order for their parliamentary procedure.
Parliamentary law is unique to each entity
Despite their popularity, Robert’s Rules of Order are not mandatory procedure for government entities. Many government entities choose to use Robert’s Rules of Order for their parliamentary procedure. They are popular with private organizations as well. Even though they’re popular, government bodies do not have to use Robert’s Rules of Order.
Instead, state and local governments are free to conduct their affairs using parliamentary rules that they choose. A local government may state in their ordinances that they use Robert’s Rules of Order. They may also list the specific procedural rules that they choose to follow in order to conduct business.
Representing a client means knowing their parliamentary rules
As a parliamentary law attorney, it’s necessary to identify the parliamentary rules that your organization uses. In order to help the organization comply with procedural rules, you must know what those rules are. It’s important not to assume that the organization uses Robert’s Rules of Order. The organization’s parliamentary rules should be readily available in their documents. If they’re a government agency, the rules should be in their ordinances.
When you represent a client as a parliamentary law attorney, it’s important to identify their parliamentary procedure and learn it. You want to ensure that the organization you represent makes decisions in ways that conform to the rules. If the organization doesn’t pass resolutions according to the rules, the resolutions may not be enforceable. A person who disagrees with a rule may be able to attack it by claiming that the organization didn’t follow the proper proceduresto pass the rule. Knowing the parliamentary rules can help you advise the organization to follow the correct steps in order to make sure that their decisions are enforceable.
Taking parliamentary law to court
Even though practicing parliamentary law typically means working in an advisory capacity, parliamentary law can also find its way to the courtroom. The courts may interpret the government body’s application of the rules. A body’s failure to follow their own parliamentary rules can render their own decisions unenforceable. Because the courts have standing to address rule violations, it’s important that governing bodies have clear and practical rules. It’s also critical that they follow their rules.
Who practices parliamentary law?
While an attorney doesn’t specialize only in parliamentary law, there’s a good chance that an attorney in a number of fields uses parliamentary law in their work. Any attorney that represents an organization with an elected or governing board must know and use parliamentary law. For example, an attorney that represents a local city or township must know parliamentary law in order to advise the township about their affairs. An attorney for a homeowner’s association must know the parliamentary laws that are in place in order to ensure that the association acts in accordance with their own rules while they do their work.
Attorneys also practice parliamentary law when they help these organizations form. An attorney may represent an organization when they are in the early stages of creating the parliamentary rules for their organization. In that case, the attorney must be skilled in parliamentary law in order to advise their clients about what rules to include in their procedures.
In addition, attorneys who work in legislative politics in any capacity need to know and use parliamentary procedure. Whether they’re an elected official or they’re advising an elected official, they need to know what to do in order to introduce motions, vote and otherwise participate in the legislative process. Parliamentary lawyers work throughout the United States because parliamentary rules govern organizations throughout the United States. Many attorneys that perform a significant amount of parliamentary work represent various local governments including county, city, township and village authorities on a variety of legal matters.
Why Become a Parliamentary Lawyer?
Parliamentary law is an important and necessary area of law for attorneys who represent organizations. Attorneys for both public and private organizations must understand parliamentary law and advise their clients accordingly. Parliamentary attorneys help their clients conduct their affairs in the best way possible. Understanding parliamentary law can make an attorney an attractive candidate to work as a government attorney. Large municipalities may have several full-time attorneys on staff. Smaller municipalities may still offer steady and repetitive legal work at competitive rates. Municipal work is a desirable field for attorneys who are knowledgeable in parliamentary law. Parliamentary lawyers often live in and participate in the communities they serve.
The laws of procedure
Parliamentary law ensures that governing bodies conduct their affairs in a fair and appropriate manner. Parliamentary law helps all members of a representative body have an equal chance to participate in the governing process. Attorneys who advise their clients about parliamentary law have an important job to do. They must evaluate a proposed course of action in light of parliamentary law in order to ensure that the client conducts their affairs appropriately and in accordance with the rules. Parliamentary law is a challenging and important area of practice that often centers on the local, unique rules of the organization.