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The Role of an LLL Leader

Rosemarie Sherman
New Jersey USA
Jeanine Hearne-Barsamian
New Jersey USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 3, June-July 2005, p. 55.

Perhaps you are a newly accredited La Leche League Leader waiting for that first call, or perhaps you are a seasoned LLL veteran, experienced with handling helping calls. What type of question will it be? Jaundice? How to tell if baby is getting enough? Meeting information?

Think again. In the past few years, Leaders have begun encountering increasing numbers of what we will term in this article "extraordinary calls" of a legal nature. What should an LLL Leader do when faced with such a call?

Let's consider the types of calls we in the New Jersey Professional Liaison (PL) Department are seeing on a more frequent basis. In the past two years, our PL Department has received numerous calls concerning the following issues: custody/visitation, jury duty, public nursing, employment, immigration/deportation, and child abuse/neglect.

A well-intentioned and perhaps slightly overzealous impulse is often to authoritatively respond to such an inquiry based upon personal knowledge (along with LLLI information) or perhaps do some research on one's own to provide an answer. Our response to this impulse is to slow down, stop, and think (SST). We need to act as Leaders, not lawyers. As Leaders, just as we do not give medical advice, we also do not give legal advice. A Leader provides information. "It is always up to the mother in consultation with her health care provider [or lawyer] to make her own decisions about the course of action she chooses" (LEADER'S HANDBOOK).

LLLI has professional liability insurance covering Leaders. Through our experience with other types of insurance (house or automobile, for example), we know that in order to be covered, we have to fall within certain boundaries. Guidelines for Leader practice are provided in the LEADER'S HANDBOOK, Fourth Edition and at www.lalecheleague.org in the password-protected Leader files under Policies and Standing Rules. For example, the LEADER'S HANDBOOK succinctly states that "Leaders are not health care providers...it's important to keep your limitations as a lay counselor in mind and to know the difference between offering information and giving medical advice. Giving medical advice can result in discord with the medical community and possible legal problems for you and LLL."

The impulse, when one of the "extraordinary calls" is received may be to go beyond the scope of our responsibilities and offer personal opinions about legal matters. Just as the medical field is regulated so is the legal profession. Not only is an advanced degree required to practice, but one must pass a test and be licensed. We must not, as Leaders, transgress boundaries and foray into the unauthorized practice of law.

What, then, is a Leader to do? Leaders are a listening ear to help the mother evaluate her situation and options. Leaders also provide information about breastfeeding that LLL has available to help her. Before offering opinions on legal aspects, consider calling your PL Department first. Certain types of legal issues are covered by statutes, laws, regulations, or ordinances, which vary on a country-to-country, state-by-state, or local basis. If the matter is one involving a federal, state, or local law, ordinance, statute, or regulation, there is no option. The applicable law, ordinance, statute, or regulation must be followed. Your PL Department may have information to share regarding the appropriate law to review or an agency for the mother to contact. This is typical in child abuse/neglect, public nursing, employment, and jury duty situations. Some PL Departments may also have information regarding decisions of courts, often embodied in documents called "judgments" or "orders," which may be helpful in some of the other types of calls a Leader receives.

Previously in our Area there was an Associate Area Professional Liaison (AAPL) who was designated as the Legal Liaison. Unfortunately, this caused a great deal of misunderstanding. Leaders called expecting legal advice and/or access to a lawyer. We also do not have a list of lawyers to recommend. In order to avoid future confusion, we list all in the PL Department as AAPL and add either medical information or legal information next to their name. Remember, like you, PL Leaders are merely lay people -- they do not give legal or medical advice, only information. Do not promise a caller a "definitive answer" to a question.

To summarize, when faced with a legal call, it is often best to call your PL Department. If the matter is one involving a federal, state, or local law, ordinance, statute, or regulation, there is no option -- the applicable law, ordinance, statute, or regulation must be followed. If it is a matter of obtaining information or resources, the PL Department will often have additional resources to share with you and the mother as a first step toward addressing how best to resolve the issue.

So, the next time you get a call asking about a legal situation, slow down, stop, and think -- remember we are acting as Leaders, not as lawyers.

Rosemarie Sherman is an Associate Area Professional Liaison and has been a Leader for 5 years. Jeanine Hearne-Barsamian is the LLL of NJ Area Professional Liaison and has been a Leader for 11 years. She and her husband, Ernie, have three sons, Steven, Trevor, and Jeffrey.

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