An advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone else. The term is often used in the legal profession to describe someone who has received some legal training which allows him or her to represent another individual in legal settings such as courtrooms and hearings. People can also advocate informally, as for example when someone writes a letter to the editor of a newspaper to speak out about a community issue.
This term comes from the Latin advocare, “to summon for counsel.” As human societies grew more complex, the legal field arose in response, creating a team of professionals who specialized in legal issues and could render assistance to people struggling with legal matters. Advocates make up a part of that profession, offering advice or counsel to people who are unfamiliar with the legal system, and also speaking out for people who lack the ability to do so on their own.
A classic example of an advocate is the advocates used in child and family services in many regions of the world. These individuals meet with children and families to gather information and inform children and families of their rights and responsibilities, and they report back to judges and staff members. For example, a child who may be undergoing abuse might meet with an advocate who would determine whether or not the child was being abused, and what the best course of action might be.
People also work as advocates for individuals negotiating the health care system, victims of crimes, divorcing couples, and many other individuals. In some cases, advocates are simply passionate volunteers, while in other instances, they may have received specific training, and they are paid by their clients, or by organizations. Working with an advocate can be very helpful for someone who is trying to navigate an experience with which he or she is unfamiliar, and the advocate may be able to secure more rights and other forms of assistance than someone would be able to obtain alone.
Someone who is interested in working as an advocate should think about the kind of advocacy he or she wants to do, and obtain appropriate training from there. For example, family advocates may be graduates of psychology programs, or they may have attended courses and workshops for certification, while an advocate who works for an environmental organization to defend the environment and speak up for it whenever possible simply is enthusiastic about the environment, sometimes with the backing of a college education.