University legal clinics, professors form national network to advance free speech and government transparency

WASHINGTON – The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic announced today the launch of the Free Expression Legal Network, a coalition of law school clinicians and academic non-clinicians who provide pro bono legal support for public interest journalism.

“Reporters today face many obstacles in covering public officials and public issues, just as they are confronted with a dramatic resources crunch,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee and co-chair of the FELN steering committee. “Law school clinics, academics, nonprofits, and funders are stepping up to meet this growing need for pro bono legal services. We are excited by the response of this community to these challenges.”

At its launch, FELN includes 22 law school clinics that provide students hands-on experience representing journalists and documentary filmmakers, among others. The network also includes two dozen law professors who frequently write and research in the areas of free expression, media law and government transparency.  The clinicians and professors are joining in a network to promote collaboration and to better meet this challenging environment for transparency and free expression. 

FELN members have handled a diverse array of cases in recent years. For example, members represented a nonprofit news organization seeking public records about officials’ actions surrounding a securities fraud scandal; successfully challenged an unconstitutional gag order against a local journalist in Bakersfield, California, in a closely watched case involving the indictment of a local politician; advised filmmakers on a documentary about San Diego’s LGBTQ history; conducted trainings on how to use government open records laws;and submitted an amicus brief in a case in which the court was preparing to sentence a government employee who disclosed classified information of significant public interest to a journalist.

“FELN will allow new clinics to lean on the expertise of more established programs, while helping members collaborate on projects and defend the constitutional rights of free speech and a free press,” said David A. Schulz, co-director of Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic and co-chair of the FELN steering committee. “The network will strive to be an integral element in the continued protection of an informed citizenry and the free flow of information that is essential to a government accountable to the people.”

The network grew out of discussions between the Reporters Committee, a national nonprofit offering free legal services and resources to journalists, and the Yale MFIA clinic. Other members of the steering committee include Mark Jackson, director of the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic; Patrick Kabat, adjunct professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law; Heidi Kitrosser, the Robins Kaplan Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School; and Jonathan Manes, director of the Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

The Reporters Committee provides day-to-day support for FELN and Reporters Committee lawyers direct the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Virginia Law School.

Yale’s MFIA Clinic organizes an annual conference on free press and government accountability, where FELN members share teaching and practical tips and learn from other experts in the field. This year’s “Access and Accountability Conference” will be Oct. 4–5 in New Haven, Connecticut.

More information about the network is available at

The full list of members is as follows:

Albany Family Violence Litigation Clinic

Albany Health Law Clinic

Albany Immigration Law Clinic

American University Glushko-Samuelson IP Law Clinic

ASU First Amendment Clinic

BU/MIT Technology Law Clinic

Buffalo Civil Liberties & Transparency Clinic

California Western New Media Rights

Case Western Reserve Intellectual Property Venture Clinic

Cornell First Amendment Clinic

Duke First Amendment Clinic

Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic

Michigan State University First Amendment Law Clinic

NYU Technology Law & Policy Clinic

UC-Berkeley Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic

UCI Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic

UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic

UCLA Scott & Cyan Banister First Amendment Clinic

University of Virginia First Amendment Clinic

Vanderbilt First Amendment Clinic

Washington University First Amendment Clinic

Yale Media Freedom & Information Access Clinic

A link to the formal press release is here. 

UVA Law School relaunches First Amendment Clinic

Charlottesville, Va. – The Board of Trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has decided to donate the Center’s assets of over $1 million to relaunch the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. The clinic will be taught by attorneys at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a national non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that provides free legal services to journalists. The Thomas Jefferson Center’s other activities will be concluded.

The Thomas Jefferson Center is a non-profit, nonpartisan institution in Charlottesville. Its founding director was the late Robert M. O’Neil, former UVA President, Law School professor and longtime director of the First Amendment Clinic. The UVA First Amendment Clinic is one of the oldest of its kind in the country and had been on a brief hiatus.

Bruce W. Sanford, chair of the Thomas Jefferson Center’s Board and a prominent First Amendment lawyer at Baker Hostetler in Washington, D.C., said, “The relaunching of a well- funded First Amendment Clinic operated by UVA Law School and taught by the Reporters Committee continues the Thomas Jefferson Center’s longstanding relationship with both organizations and promises to provide a lasting legacy for the Center’s mission and work.”

“From its inception, the Thomas Jefferson Center’s mission was to advance First Amendment advocacy,” said Mr. Sanford. “Our Board believed that a growing engine of that advocacy is clinical education, and that it was time to focus the use of the Center’s assets on a revived First Amendment Clinic at UVA Law, powerfully strengthened by a partnership with the Reporters Committee.”

UVA Law School Dean Risa Goluboff said the school has long been an important center of First Amendment scholarship and clinical education.

“The First Amendment Clinic will teach the next generation of lawyers and advocates to advance these crucial values, and we are grateful to the Thomas Jefferson Center for its support,” she said.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee and co-director of the Clinic from 2010 to 2017, said, “We are excited to provide crucial needs-based legal help to journalists and documentarians throughout the region. At the same time, we are grateful to the board of the Thomas Jefferson Center for creating new opportunities for us around First Amendment scholarship and educational programming by tying us even more tightly to UVA Law School.”

Read UVA Law School’s release.

Founded in 1989 with endowing gifts from Thomas E. Worrell, Jr., his family and other donors, the Thomas Jefferson Center’s programmatic activities were devised by its founding director, Professor O’Neil. They included a wide range of initiatives aimed at deepening public understanding of First Amendment values. For instance, the Thomas Jefferson Center administered the annual Jefferson Muzzles awards, bestowed on government officials and others who had tried to stifle free expression; another award named after the late Justice William F. Brennan, Jr. for distinguished service to the First Amendment; and a partnership with the Ford Foundation called “Difficult Dialogues” about free speech on campus.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970 when the nation’s news media faced an unprecedented wave of government subpoenas forcing reporters to name confidential sources. Today, its attorneys provide pro bono legal representation, file “friend-of-the-court” briefs in major media law cases, and produce other legal resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists.