The Secret to IJ’s Success

February 1, 2011

In 1991, we launched the Institute for Justice, determined to restore constitutional protection for our most basic freedoms and to advance a rule of law conducive to a society of free and responsible individuals.  Twenty years later, we celebrate our anniversary having achieved more than we dared dream, but recognizing that we have just begun to tap our potential.  Over the course of this anniversary year, we will feature articles looking at IJ’s history and showcasing our future plans.  This series begins by answering a frequently posed question:  “What is the secret to IJ’s success?”

The easy answer is, of course, the people of IJ.  Our staff, board, donors and clients are all extraordinarily talented and dedicated to the principles of liberty.

But there is more to it than that.

Many organizations have talented people.  The difference is the culture of IJ that permeates all of our work and interaction with others.  We call it “The IJ Way.”  The IJ Way involves five attributes that each IJer brings to every task.  First, we are entrepreneurial in creating and seizing opportunities, pursuing our goals with focused tenacity.  We make things happen rather than simply waiting to react to the agenda of the other side.  Second, we achieve results in the real world.  While ideas and philosophy undergird our work, we translate that into action that changes the lives of our clients and in the long run, the jurisprudence of America.  Third, we are positive and open, approaching every task with a positive attitude focused on solutions, not problems.  Indeed, our ability to see the glass as half-full has been central to our ability to develop creative strategies, persevere, and ultimately prevail against what to others may seem like hopeless odds.  Fourth, we are principled and adhere unfailingly to those principles whether in litigation, public debate or internal discussion.  And finally, we are resilient, and even in the face of heartbreaking setbacks, we recover quickly and set in motion strategies to overcome whatever defeat we may have suffered and move ahead aggressively.  When people remark, as they often do, on the esprit de corps of IJ, they are recognizing this culture.

In addition to the victories this culture has made possible, it has been indispensable in growing IJ into the national institution it is today.  The IJ Way enables talented people to thrive and to succeed beyond expectations year after year.  That in turn has enabled us to pioneer an unprecedented approach to public interest law.  We pursue cutting-edge constitutional litigation that has put our issues on the national agenda and brought five cases to the U.S. Supreme Court in the past eight years.

But as we stated at our founding, litigation alone is not enough.

Thus, we have built an award-winning communications team that not only secures widespread recognition of our work, but also achieves reforms by marshalling public opinion.  Our activism and outreach take us to neighborhoods across America to thwart eminent domain abuse, support school choice and oppose arbitrary occupational licensing laws.  Our strategic research program brings sophisticated social science to bear on issues related to our litigation.  Our constitutional expertise is translated effectively into select legislative arenas by our new legislative counsel.  Our IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship helps aspiring inner-city entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams of self-sufficiency.  And our lean development and administration staffs provide and deploy the resources necessary to operate a nationwide organization with six—soon to be seven—offices and a nearly $12 million annual budget.

This is what the people of IJ have achieved so far.  And this is why the people of IJ everywhere should celebrate the foundation we have laid for success over the next 20 years!

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.

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