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Responding to the Call: How to Pursue Legal Advocacy

Without legal advocacy, many norms and rights that people rely on, may have never been established. School desegregation (argued through Brown v. Board of Education), gay marriage (argued through many cases, but before the Supreme Court as Obergefell v. Hodges), clean water and air (argued at both state and federal levels as a myriad of lawsuits) – all were established as part of a legal advocacy strategy.

Foundations have often supported legal advocacy organizations working to establish rights or implement new policies. A number of projects over the years have explored how foundations can or do pursue advocacy work (e.g., a deep dive into Rockefeller Foundation’s support of transportation advocacy or Bolder Advocacy’s articulation of best practices).

Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we have seen the interest in supporting advocacy surge among foundations. One of the more interesting things about the recent surge in advocacy is the attention being paid to methods of advocacy—that is, how you get things done.

Over the last few years at TCC Group, I have been involved with the Atlas Learning Project. Supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies and run by the Center for Evaluation Innovation, this project explored – and subsequently shared with the funding community – what Atlantic learned about funding advocacy efforts.

Our involvement in the Atlas Learning Project focused on the how of legal advocacy. Legal advocacy goes by a lot of names (e.g., advocacy through the courts, strategic litigation, impact litigation), but the core defining element of legal advocacy is that it happens through the lens or frame of the legal system.

The work we were involved in made me a strong supporter of the important work that legal advocates do and provided greater insight to how non-lawyers can be involved in legal advocacy. Nonprofits and foundations of various types and issue areas can play important roles in supporting and resourcing legal advocacy work. From the evaluation perspective, we believe measuring the impact of this work can help legal advocacy organizations, and their funders, understand when and how legal advocacy strategies show results and how to identify areas for ongoing improvement.

To support legal advocacy organizations and their funders in their work, TCC Group created five resources that serve as introductions and guides for how to use legal advocacy, each prepared with a specific audience in mind.

Title Valuable For Brief Description

Step into the Fight: Philanthropy’s Role in Legal Advocacy

Funders, Nonprofits This 10-minute video highlights two case studies that demonstrate the potential impact of legal advocacy, and how it connects to other advocacy strategies. We interviewed funders, advocates, and lawyers to see how these two cases, one focused on Medicare and one focused on stop-and-frisk, helped drive positive impact for affected communities.

How-to Guide: Stepping into the Fight: A Guide for Nonprofits to Understand and Engage in Legal Advocacy

Advocacy Organizations, Nonprofits Based on interviews with dozens of legal advocacy stakeholders, this guide introduces nonprofits and advocates to the concept of legal advocacy, including the interplay that legal advocacy strategies can have on other advocacy work. It outlines how nonprofits and other advocacy groups can partner for legal advocacy, what readiness looks like to engage in this work, and what outcomes are achievable.
How-To Guide: Stepping into the Fight: A Funder’s Guide for Understanding and Supporting Legal Advocacy Funders A sister piece to the guide for nonprofits, with a funder audience in mind, this guide focuses on how funders can support legal advocacy efforts, including when and what types of support make sense.
How-To Guide: Evaluating Legal Advocacy: A How-To Guide for Evaluators, Funders, and Advocates Evaluators, Funders, Nonprofits This guide outlines an outcomes framework for legal advocacy in three sections: readiness, strategies, and impact. Intended to serve as a resource for any organization interested in evaluating this work, the guide shares specifics on how evaluators can use various approaches (e.g., summative, formative, monitoring, and developmental) when conducting legal advocacy evaluation.
Report: Toward a More Just Justice System: How Open are the Courts to Social Justice Litigation? Funders, Legal professionals Led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, this research-based report is an in-depth look at how the court system has changed in terms of favorability for legal advocacy strategies; opportunities and obstacles for using these strategies; and recommendations for litigators in this field.

In addition to the resources above, we continue to compile other resource materials we think will be helpful to legal advocates. These include other published briefs examining the efficacy or impact of legal advocacy and other evaluation resources including a toolkit from the National Legal Aid & Defender’s Association (NLADA). We hope that these resources will be helpful to you as you start, or continue, thinking about legal advocacy. If you have any questions about this strategy, or have suggestions for resources we can add to our legal advocacy resource page, please contact Deepti Sood.




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