Law reform organizations specialize in broader strategies to advance an advocacy agenda, protect or defend legal rights of groups, or bring about social change. Law reform offices typically are organized around particular set of issues (e.g. civil rights or civil liberties) or the interests of a specific disadvantaged group (e.g. racial minorities) .
Because of limited staffing, low turnover and high competition, permanent positions in law reform organizations can be difficult to land, especially early in your career. These positions often go to lawyers who already have experience in the field or with the particular organization. Many offices do offer summer internships, school-year externships and postgraduate, one-year fellowships which provide invaluable experience and connections and may serve as stepping stones to permanent positions. There are also opportunities for attorneys to work on cases on a volunteer basis in order to gain experience in the fields.
Law reform organizations use many forms of advocacy to advance their agenda or to defend setbacks in the law in their areas of focus. They can often be broadly categorized as impact litigation or policy-oriented advocacy organizations. These two categories are generalizations and many law-reform organizations use both of these strategies:
Some law reform organizations focus on “impact” and/or class-action litigation. In these organizations, lawyers will take on individual cases that present significant legal questions, affect a large number of people and hold the potential for systemic reform. Impact litigation organizations will also take on “class actions” – representing a group of people with common grievances. Impact litigation groups may also write amicus (friend of the court) briefs in cases brought by other organizations.
In addition, these organizations may serve as clearinghouses on current developments in their specialty areas, coordinate advocacy on particular issues, conduct public education programs and assist other public service law and citizen groups. They may have subdivisions which are further specialized, such as the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.
Examples of impact litigation organizations:
Policy oriented advocacy
Policy focused organizations work on public policy and law reform in specific areas primarily through means other than litigation. These approaches include research, policy analysis and advocacy, lobbying for legislation, advocating with administrative agencies on pending regulations, and, increasingly, media advocacy.
Lawyers in these policy-oriented organizations are often joined by professionals from other disciplines, such as scientists, social scientists, clergy, lobbyists and policy analysts. An organization’s field of action can range from local issues to national and international concerns. Policy-oriented public interest organizations may provide technical assistance, research, analysis and dissemination of information to other programs and through this act as clearinghouses in particular fields.
Examples of policy oriented nonprofits programs: