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How to Litigate Through a Shutdown—and Keep Winning

At the Institute for Justice, we deal with unique challenges and uphill battles every day. In fact, the bigger the challenge, the more palpable our energy and determination to take it on. This spirit has been on full display over the past few months as IJers have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result has been a time of unprecedented activity.

Here are just a few examples:

Since the beginning of April, we have filed 12 new cases. That is twice the number we filed during the same time last year and more than we’ve filed in any single quarter in IJ’s history.

Each case required the same top-notch legal work as always, but we’ve done it while navigating courts that are operating with varied emergency procedures and without being able to see our clients or hold media events in person. Despite those challenges, we have gone to battle for 25 new clients, and we have found creative ways to tell their stories.

Although a few courts granted extensions or delayed arguments at the beginning of the shutdown, most have now settled in and continue their work remotely. Since April, IJ attorneys have argued 15 times by phone or video conference—including in front of four federal appellate courts.

In other cases, courts have responded with decisive victories for our clients. Our cases often take years, and the timing of decisions is completely unpredictable. We can go without a decision in any case for months, and then we can get several decisions all at once. Still, being able to share such good news during this time has made the victories even sweeter.

Meanwhile, as law schools transitioned to remote learning this spring, we reimagined how IJ could offer substantive student programming and training opportunities in the new environment. Attorneys and clients have presented via video conference to law school classes, and in May we hosted 40 students for IJ’s first virtual Law Student Conference. Many of those students are continuing at IJ as law clerks through the Dave Kennedy Fellowship program. Putting technology to work, they are seamlessly collaborating with IJ attorneys and one another on legal research to fuel the current rush of litigation and lay the groundwork for future cases.

Finally, we are looking forward to welcoming a whole new batch of litigators for liberty at the end of the summer. We have even more cases to launch and litigate, including King v. Brownback at the U.S. Supreme Court—the first case in our Project on Immunity and Accountability to reach the high court. And we’re keeping up the momentum from our initial COVID response efforts with a new national legislative campaign that will take us into 2021.

There’s a special energy in the air at IJ when we are working together to meet a challenge—and we can’t wait to share more results.

To see IJ’s student opportunities, visit our student website.

Melissa LoPresti is IJ’s litigation projects & training programs manager.

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