An Insider’s View of IJ: A Well-Run Machine

October 1, 2002

October 2002

An Insider’s View of IJ: A Well-Run Machine

By Lee McGrath

Before moving on to the second part of my career, I spent more than two decades in corporate America and served on numerous boards of non-profit organizations. Through these experiences, I came to appreciate what makes a successful enterprise. It takes talented employees, strong managers and thoughtful leaders. It takes good products, great customers and reliable sources of funding. It takes constant adherence to one’s mission. It takes vision. These qualities are rare in the for-profit world. In the world of non-profit organizations, where there is no bottom line to measure results, they are even harder to find.

I became a donor to the Institute for Justice because I believe in its mission and was impressed with the results it achieved. But this past summer I got special insight into the inner workings of IJ that not only confirmed my original enthusiasm, but provided a whole new appreciation for how well it is managed and what it takes to earn IJ’s successes. I served a 12-week clerkship at IJ headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Yes, there is something after corporate life–for me it’s attending law school with aspirations to be a public interest lawyer). I saw firsthand the pace, passion and professionalism that imbues IJ on a daily basis.

“Excellent lawyering and coordination among the legal team are vital to winning cases and changing the law.”

Chip and Clint, IJ’s co-founders, have brought together extraordinarily talented lawyers. Scott, Dana, Dick, Deb, Clark, Bob and Steve as well as those at the Clinic in Chicago and at the Arizona Chapter are driven to meet the needs of their clients. By definition, they have to be driven because the current law nearly always favors their opponents–the government. Fortunately, IJ also has great clients who have been put in outrageous positions. These extraordinary individuals help level the playing field. However, excellent lawyering and coordination among the legal team and all other facets of IJ are still vital to winning cases and changing the law. And that’s where IJ’s real difference shines forth: in its management of a very talented staff.

Chip, overseeing the operation of the Institute, gives each attorney and support staff the work and oversight to remain inspired and on-task. Although it continues throughout the week, this begins each Monday morning at 8:30 sharp, when he chairs a planning meeting in which every employee–the paralegals, accountants, fundraisers, publicists, webmaster and receptionist–explains what he or she will work on during the coming week. It is not easily mastered, but Chip demonstrates a sure and certain knack for management that ensures a well-coordinated team effort on each IJ project and case. Every case has a strategy detailing what IJ will make happen both inside and outside the courtroom.

The results of one such case strategy were demonstrated on June 27, the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced the Cleveland school choice victory. IJ’s publicity plan was in place well before that day and was central to the Institute’s success; win or lose, IJ would set the terms of the debate in the court of public opinion.

To that end, John Kramer–IJ’s communications guru–and the school choice team developed key messages and wrote press releases in anticipation of a win, loss or draw. Kramer put summer law clerks in the courtroom and at the pressroom charged with the responsibility of calling the office as soon as the decision was released. The first call back to the office triggered the press release distribution to hundreds of carefully targeted news outlets nationwide. Additionally, Kramer scheduled Clint to appear on CNN on the Supreme Court steps immediately after the decision for the nation’s first interview on the decision. (It was on CNN where Clint first spoke his now-famous line, “This was the Super Bowl for school choice and the kids won.”) It was the first of more than one hundred interviews they conducted that day.

While all this was happening, Lisa Knepper, IJ’s communications director, helped parents pull together a press conference in Cleveland. It was at that news conference that one of the wire services took the extraordinary photograph of school choice mom Roberta Kitchen receiving a victorious hug from a fellow choice supporter. That photo was on the front page of the next day’s Washington Post and seen around the nation.

Meanwhile, Maureen Blum, IJ’s director of outreach programs, instantly spread the word about the victory to hundreds of likeminded groups nationwide, ensuring they had the facts as well as copies of the decision itself to further promote this historic victory. The entire staff pitched in to field the calls that poured in throughout that exciting day, getting information out and making certain each IJ attorney could share their quotes and analysis.

By the end of the next day, it was clear that IJ not only helped win the case in court, but it also won the battle in the court of public opinion. It took a lot of talent and great management to realize both victories–two traits that are at the heart of all IJ accomplishes.

Lee McGrath and his wife, Bonnie, are longtime supporters of the Institute for Justice. After 25 years in the business world, Lee enrolled in law school in September 2001 and clerked at IJ over the summer of 2002. He also attended the Institute’s annual Law Student Conference in 2001

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.