IJ’s Secret Weapon With a Smile

April 1, 2000

April 2000

IJ’s Secret Weapon With a Smile

By Clint Bolick

Of all the Institute for Justice attorneys, Dana Berliner came of age in the most rarefied environment. Raised on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dana attended Yale University both for college and law school, then secured a prestigious clerkship with Judge Jerry Smith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. After that, Dana traveled extensively abroad until joining IJ in January 1994.

Since then, nothing has been the same.

In her first week, Dana was on her hands and knees searching out a banana peel that had been scotch-taped by an IJ prankster underneath the desk of a colleague who hated the smell of bananas. Not exactly something they teach at Yale.

On the work side, Dana was plunged instantly into one of the most intense and ambitious cases IJ has ever prosecuted, the challenge to the federal Davis-Bacon Act (on which we still await a court decision after four years).

One time in the middle of the night, Dana discovered that the cleaning crew inadvertently had locked the conference room, which contained all her papers-and she had no key. Dana was just about to crawl through ceiling panels when a key was found. On another occasion, Dana was running to deliver vital court papers on the verge of a midnight deadline when she tripped and injured her knee. She handed off the papers to a law clerk who delivered them with minutes to spare.

That is dedication.

As an IJ freedom fighter, the intrepid Dana has traversed rural wilds, mean inner-city neighborhoods, and street demonstrations. Investigating a property rights case, Dana trudged through the marshes of Anoka County, Minnesota, swatting away swarming carnivorous black flies. When she documented deprivations of economic liberty in Detroit, an Associated Press photographer refused to follow her footsteps, preferring not to visit such dangerous areas.

But it is back home where Dana has her greatest impact. A stellar lawyer, last year she became one of IJ’s first senior attorneys. Her beatific smile, infectious laugh, and warm generosity endear Dana to her colleagues, while her superb intellect and passionate commitment to freedom make her a first-rate lawyer.

Dana also supervises IJ’s dozen-plus law clerks each year. She is legendary as perhaps the toughest interviewer in the entire legal profession, throwing challenging research hypotheticals at terrified aspirants. Combining attributes of a drill sergeant and den mother, Dana as a supervisor nurtures and cajoles, demanding high standards of quality while imparting skills and advice of lifelong value.

Dana maintains a large property rights and economic liberty litigation docket. But somehow she’s never too busy to lend a hand. A few weeks ago, when Matthew Berry and I were toiling on the Florida school choice case, Dana popped her head into my office as she was leaving at about 7:30 P.M.

“I have some time later on if you need any help,” she offered. It was so wonderfully typical.

I knew Matthew and I could manage. But as with so many Dana episodes, it brought a smile to my face. Knowing Dana is on our team makes everyone at IJ a bit more optimistic that, in the end, freedom will prevail.

Clint Bolick is the Institute for Justice’s litigation director.

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.