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Guidelines for
Finding a Public Interest Law Firm

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Introduction

          Non-profit, public interest law firms are operated as tax-exempt public interest organizations.  They operate with funds provided by tax-deductible grants, gifts and donations.  Their mission is to use their grant money to provide legal representation to individuals such as yourself.

          These firms have limited budgets, and they need to carefully select the cases they represent.

          It is your job to determine the "right" firm for your type of case, and to "sell" your discrimination case to the firm!

Important Note:

Preserve your legal rights!  You must file a complaint with the proper authorities within a specified period of time!  Failure to do so may result in forfeiture of your claim of reverse discrimination.

Consult a qualified attorney as soon as possible.

It's Like a Job Search

          You should think about your search for a public interest law firm as if you were conducting a job search.

          You need to find a firm that is interested in your case. You need to make a good presentation of your case. And you need to assure the firm that you are in it for the long haul, i.e., that you are willing to actively participate with them in the prosecution of your complaint even if it takes several years.

General Guidelines

1.0 Write down a complete description of the facts and circumstances pertaining to the discrimination you believe you have suffered.  Include the exact nature of the discrimination (eg., race discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination).  Include all relevant details: How did it happen, when did it happen, who said what to whom, on what dates, why you think this constitutes illegal discrimination.  (Don’t try to play lawyer, and don't use legal jargon.)  Present the facts as concisely as possible.)

          You might find it helpful to write your case as a timeline or a chronology:  On Date 1 this happened; on Date 2 I complained to my supervisor and said this; on Date 3 employee John Doe said this to me, and Jane Smith was a witness; on Date 4 they terminated me, and so on.

          Revise and edit your summary at least twice to make sure it is clear and logical. Be sure to include specific dates when the discrimination occurred, as well as the names of witnesses or participants.

2.0 Review the list of firms on our main Legal Help page.

          Visit their web sites and look for some kind of description of the firm's area of specialization.  Review some of the discrimination cases they’ve handled if they've posted summaries.  (Don’t be discouraged, however, if you can’t find a case that sounds exactly like yours!)

3.0 Pick one firm to start with.
4.0 Make your first contact by telephone.

You may be told up front "Please mail us your materials." But make the phone call first.

Do NOT e-mail them for the first contact unless they specifically request it.

4.1 The phone call: Call the firm and ask if you can speak to an associate or a lawyer about your discrimination case.  You may be asked to fax (or e-mail, or mail) a summary of your case.  You may need to wait for a call back, and it may take several days or even a week or more to get a call back.

SCRIPT:  "Hello, my name is ____, and I'd like to speak to an associate about a discrimination complaint."

4.2 If you are put through to an associate, very briefly summarize your case.

SCRIPT: "Mr. / Mrs. X thank you for taking my call. I’m looking for assistance with my discrimination case against (whomever)."

(The associate/lawyer may or may not have time to talk with you, and may simply ask you to send them your materials.)

4.3 One goal of contacting the first firm is to begin building a "warm referral list" of names and firms!  Keep this in mind.
5.0 Assume the first firm turns you down.

Don’t take it personally, they get many requests for assistance but only have limited resources. GET REFERRALS!

Politely ask them for the name(s) of other individuals at other firms who might be able to help you with your case!

If your contact seems willing, see if you can get two or three referrals.

SCRIPT: "Mr. X, can you suggest one or two names of firms I might contact for assistance?"

6.0 Follow up the warm referrals.

You now have an advantage: You can address your next correspondence to a specific name.

This time, you should make contact by U.S. Mail (or via an overnite delivery service). 

Be sure to include the following materials:

6.1 Materials:  The cover letter.

In the very first sentence be sure to mention the fact that Ms. X at Firm X referred you to them.  This is very important and makes it more likely they will at least skim through your materials.

Then, briefly review your discrimination complaint in plain language. In general, the cover letter should never be longer than two typewritten pages.

6.2 Materials:  Attach your detailed case summary as a separate document.
7.0 Timing your followup.

Give them time to receive and review the material.   (If U.S. Mail, assume it took your package 3 days to get there, and another 2 days for your "target" to open the envelope -- that’s a total of 5 business days.)  Then call them on the phone to follow up!

7.1 When you get your "warm referral" on the phone, remember you are essentially conducting a business transaction.  Be clear, concise and self-assured.  (This may require scripting your half of the conversation ahead of time.  Don’t laugh!  This can be a very helpful technique.)

SCRIPT: "Thank you for taking my call, Mr. Z.  I sent you some materials pertaining to my discrimination case, and I wanted to see if you had received them and if your firm may be able to help me."

(Remember to treat this transaction as if you were applying for a job that you really want!  Be respectful and deferential.   The man or woman at the other end of the line has the expertise to help you.)

7.2 If they turn you down, they will probably tell you why.  They may be too busy with other cases, or they might not handle your particular type of case.

In any event, be sure to obtain the following information before you conclude the conversation:

  • "Is there a particular reason that my case isn't acceptable?" (If they didn’t already tell you.)
  • "Can you suggest any way I could improve the presentation of my case my chances with another firm?"
  • "Can you give me a referral to a firm, and a contact name, who you think might be able to help?"
8.0 Go back to Step 6.0 and repeat the cycle.

Summary

          Eventually you may land a firm that is interested.  Promptly supply them with any additional materials they may request.  The firm may bring a private lawyer (co-counsel) into the picture, and may ask you to contact him or her for further discussion.  If this is the case, it is imperative that you take the initiative to make the recommended contact with the co-counsel. 

          You can expect this process to take anywhere from several weeks to several months.  Some non-profit law firms must present prospective cases to their board of directors for approval, and their board of directors may only meet 2 times or 4 times per year.   This might mean you have to wait until the firm's next board meeting before you find out if your case has been accepted.

Important Note:

Preserve your legal rights!  You must file a complaint with the proper authorities within a specified period of time!  Failure to do so may result in forfeiture of your claim of reverse discrimination.

Consult a qualified attorney as soon as possible.


End Legal Help - Guidelines for Finding a Public Interest Law Firm

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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.