Do we really need a parliamentarian?
In most cases, for any but the smallest of groups, hiring credentialed parliamentarians to advise during a convention, annual meeting, or other important meetings where business is conducted is a strategic must. The savings in time, actual costs, soft costs and potential liability will almost always offset the costs of the parliamentarian or parliamentarians for your group.
In this area, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. An assembly that tries to wing it and do it themselves is, in many cases, just asking for trouble. If a contested issue or issues are expected, we provide, in addition to our expertise, a calming effect on both sides of the issue.
When do we need to obtain the services of a parliamentarian for our convention?
A fellow parliamentarian recently relayed the story of a group holding a convention and asking her to serve at the convention THE NIGHT BEFORE THE CONVENTION BEGAN. We are professionally trained parliamentarians. Imagine, if you will, if you were on trial for murder, would you call an attorney the night before the trial began. The attorney could probably do some good at the trial but not nearly as well as if they had been engaged with plenty of time for preparation. We are not merely referees who show up for the game and then leave.
Roberts Rules of Order offers the following advice, “A key consultant in the preparation for a convention should be the parliamentarian, who should be engaged well in advance. . . . . . . . . .the parliamentarian’s most important work may well be performed before the convention opens.” RONR (11th ed). p. 608 l. 30 to p. 609 l. 3
During the period of preparation, the parliamentarian should be the principal adviser to the president, the officers, and the committee chairman regarding management of the convention as it relates to the actual transaction of business. RONR (11th ed.) p. 609 l. 3-8
The chairmen of the Credentials Committee, the Committee on Standing Rules, the Program Committee, the Resolutions Committee, the Elections Committee if there is one, and the standing committees who are to present business to the convention should all consult with the parliamentarian during this time; and it may be advisable that he attend certain meetings of these committees. The parliamentarian should always be present at the preconvention board meetings mentioned above. RONR (11th ed.) p. 609 l. 8-16
As you can see, the parliamentarian has a lot to do for preparation for a convention and most of the work is indeed done well in advance. This work load is also why we recommend, for large conventions or meetings, to have multiple parliamentarians. Most of these committees meet prior to the convention but all at the same time. It is difficult but not impossible to be in two places at once, but if your convention has 8 committees meeting at the same time, it can be very difficult to adequately advise them all.