At IJ, changing the world is a full-time job. But there are many lawyers around the country who work at private law firms yet still hope to do something, even part time, to make the U.S. a freer place. IJ gives them a way to do just that. In this past year alone, nearly 200 attorneys volunteered to expand our fight for liberty.
IJ began recruiting volunteer lawyers more than 20 years ago, when attendees of our first law student conference became part of our Human Action Network. The network is now comprised of hundreds of former law clerks, law student conference attendees, friends and people who volunteer when they learn about our work, all of whom we engage in a huge variety of ways. Lawyers in IJ’s network serve as local counsel on the ground in most of our cases. They write friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of IJ and on behalf of other people in IJ’s cases. Volunteer lawyers assist entrepreneurs through IJ’s Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago. Others do legal research projects in their spare time or volunteer for IJ in between jobs. And we refer whole cases to volunteer attorneys when they are not quite right for us.
Although IJ’s network has always been active, we have noticed a distinct rise in enthusiasm for pro bono work lately—from lawyers at private law firms and lawyers in State Policy Network groups. And IJ is expanding the types of projects that pro bono lawyers can do.
In this past year alone, nearly 200 attorneys volunteered to expand our fight for liberty.
Most recently, IJ itself has been the plaintiff in a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, which are important legal cases in their own right. And in each of these, we have been represented by a team of lawyers from our network. Right now, IJ has four different FOIA lawsuits in progress, where we are represented pro bono by four different law firms.
For example, when IJ’s strategic research team wanted to conduct a study about hair braiding, it asked many state agencies for information. Illinois refused to respond. Represented by Jeffery Lula and others at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, IJ sued. Some time after we sued, a new law went into effect that exempted these documents from FOIA. Although the agency had no justification for withholding the information when we asked for it, the agency could now claim that the new law meant it never had to give us the information. This is an important question. If the agency wins, government entities could illegally withhold documents, get a new law passed justifying withholding the documents and then never need to produce them. The case was heard at the Illinois Supreme Court on March 15, 2018.
Another case, about whether the Georgia Legislature can refuse to produce documents about its new music therapy license requirement, is pending in the Georgia appellate court. We are represented by Alex Harris and other lawyers at Gibson Dunn.
Meanwhile, we have two cases seeking forfeiture databases of the Internal Revenue Service and Customs and Border Protection. These databases will allow IJ and other researchers to answer many questions about how often and in what situations the federal government uses civil forfeiture. IJ is represented in those suits by two former law clerks, Dan Muino at Morrison Foerster and Andrew Prins at Latham & Watkins LLP, as well as other lawyers on their teams.
There is so much to be done in fighting for liberty. And through strategic use of volunteer lawyers, IJ gives opportunities to other freedom lovers and can do even more to change the world.
If you would like to volunteer, please contact Melissa LoPresti, IJ’s litigation projects and training programs manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.