A project of Democracy Fund

Legal Clinic Fund Expands Support for Local Newsrooms with Five New Grants to First Amendment Clinics


As law students across the country return to the classroom, many are also putting their education to work through legal clinics where they can help advance critical issues facing our democracy. From San Juan, Puerto Rico to Cleveland, Ohio, First Amendment law students are helping defend local journalists and fight vital press freedom battles in what is shaping up to be the worst year in a decade for press freedom.

The Legal Clinic Fund was started in 2019 to support the small but powerful network of First Amendment legal clinics at local universities as they work to advance and defend First Amendment rights, media freedom, and transparency in their communities and nationally. The Fund envisions these local legal clinics as a critical backbone of new legal support that can aid local journalists and media makers as they investigate injustice, hold power to account, and tell the stories we need to hear. This is especially important at a moment when the journalism industry is facing profound challenges and changes that are limiting its ability to fight these fights.

In its first round of grantmaking, the Legal Clinic Fund supported four legal clinics whose work in the past year has helped combat government secrecy around COVID-19, defended journalists facing legal issues at protests, trained newsrooms in how to leverage freedom of information act requests, and supported a cohort of law students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in First Amendment law. These grantees received multi-year funding to expand their capacity to serve the legal needs of local newsrooms.

Today we are proud to announce five new awards to the second round of grant recipients of the Legal Clinic Fund:

Case Western Reserve University School of Law’s Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center

Case Western Reserve University was one of the first law schools in the country to start a clinical program, over 45 years ago. Today it handles more than 100 cases a year, supporting community-based clients in matters dealing with free speech, free press, and government access issues, while training the next generation of speech and press advocates. With this funding, it will engage more students and expand its capacity to represent local journalists, and will represent members of the community, particularly BIPOC people, in civil rights and speech-defense litigation involving First Amendment rights.

Inter American University of Puerto Rico Faculty of Law’s Access to Information Clinic

The Inter American University of Puerto Rico’s Access to Information Clinic aims to strengthen investigative journalism in Puerto Rico by providing legal assistance to investigative journalists and others seeking highly impactful public information. This grant will help the clinic increase its ability to represent investigative journalists, independent news media, regional newspapers, individuals, and non-governmental organizations seeking government information that will impact public discussions on different topics in Puerto Rico.

University of Virginia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic

At the University of Virginia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, law students work closely with lawyers from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on timely and vital matters involving free speech and press freedom. The clinic will hire a full-time Clinical Legal Fellow in partnership with the Reporters Committee, which will expand the clinic’s reach, develop new relationships with local news organizations, and engage more law students in support of issues facing local newsrooms in the mid-Atlantic region.

Yale University’s Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic

Yale University’s Media Freedom & Information Access (MFIA) Clinic is dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression. This grant will enable the clinic to hire a clinical fellow to develop new infrastructures for providing legal services to those who gather and report the news at the state and local level, primarily in Connecticut and New England. The fellow will supervise an expanded student team at the MFIA Clinic dedicated to providing legal services to local journalists and publishers, including pre-publication advice, affirmative newsgathering litigation, and defense of published reports

Cardozo School of Law Indie Film Clinic

The Cardozo School of Law Indie Film Clinic provides free assistance to filmmakers and video journalists engaged in social justice and visual advocacy to help them navigate legal hurdles and make sure their stories can be told. The clinic will hire a teaching fellow to expand the number of students it can train and clients it can represent, with a particular focus on those from historically underserved communities. It will also expand community training sessions, provide additional programming for documentarians and video journalists, and increase its pop-up clinics which offer legal services to underserved communities of filmmakers.

About the Legal Clinic Fund

The Legal Clinic Fund is generously supported by The Abrams Foundation, Democracy Fund, Heising-Simons Foundation, and The Klarman Family Foundation. The funders of the Legal Clinic Fund are grateful to The Miami Foundation for administering the Fund and for providing critical support for the Fund’s operations, and to Nabiha Syed of the Markup, Ellen Goodman of Rutgers Law, and Anne Galloway of VT Digger for serving as grant reviewers and advisors for the fund in 2020.

With these grants the Legal Clinic Fund has awarded $2.8 million to nine organizations, all of whom are part of the growing Free Expression Legal Network. But there is still much left to do to meet the urgent legal needs of journalists and newsrooms all across the country. We regularly hear stories about legal clinics being forced to turn down cases because of lack of resources, leaving local newsrooms and independent journalists at risk. We are encouraged by the creativity and success of the Legal Clinic Fund grantees so far, and encourage other funders and donors who care about the future of the First Amendment to explore how they can support legal clinics in their region.

For more information about the Legal Clinic Fund contact Josh Stearns at Democracy Fund or Lindsey Linzer at Miami Foundation.

Learn more about the Legal Clinic Fund and its grantees

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