Ohio Citizen Action / Research & Reports

First, do no harm

Notes for attorneys working with groups fighting for Environmental Justice

Ellis Jacobs

“Where there is an active community group and no obvious slam dunk case:

It is generally wise to save the big law suit for last, for a lot of reasons.

They can be disempowering – everyone stands around and watches the suit (unless the other stuff is hot).  And, they frequently take a long time.

They cost tons of money, so lots of time is spent raising money (instead of raising hell).

If clients raise too much hell, you or someone, will worry about upsetting or alienating the Judge, or providing ammunition to the opposing party.

If you lose, the group will be discouraged – the courts, who have the final say, will have put their stamp of approval on the bad behavior you are challenging.

Why should you let someone, who probably shares very few of your client’s life experiences, decide who wins?

They tend to make you (the attorney) the key decision maker – not the group.

If the community organizes first, and does end up filing a case, they will have already developed community sympathy and support.

If you buy this approach then make sure your clients understand that you will not win this for them they will win it for themselves.  They will not do less work because you are on board – probably more.  You will help them understand how things fit together, who can give them what they want, where the pressure points are likely to be.  Assess their willingness to continue on.”

— Ellis Jacobs, Attorney at Law

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