Send lawyers, guns, and money?

Free, serious help!

Send lawyers, guns, and money?
Lawyers for Reporters' map of local independent news publications served. (Hi, Hawaii!)

By Alice Dreger

Before I started doing serious local news, I used to think the stereotype of the publisher/editor sitting around drinking whiskey and calling for lawyers, guns, and money was a bit silly. Then I got sued for alleged defamation by a criminally-indicted real estate developer.

That novella is a story for another day. (It would best be told through the use of anime and a live mariachi band.) Today, I’m here to tell you that if you’re independent and local, keep Lawyers for Reporters on your radar. 

Whether you’re doing nonprofit or for-profit news, Lawyers for Reporters can provide you free help with all sorts of legal issues, from defending your rights to public documents and public meetings to figuring out whether you’re legally compliant in your state, from developing policies to deal with irritants to pre-publication review to minimize the odds of being sued.

Several of my colleagues have been singing this team’s praises, and I had the opportunity to see them in action myself this week when they conferenced with a representative from a local news op I’ve been advising during a leadership transition. Their advice was clear, non-shaming, and supportive. 

These are the lawyers you’d want to hire. And did I mention their help is free?

How does it work? Lawyers for Reporters is composed of a small team of in-house lawyers funded to help save local news. To assist you in your particular legal needs, they may reach out to expert attorneys in your own region for assistance – but when they do, it’s still all free to you.

Who’s funding them? Lawyers for Reporters is a project of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, which aims to advance “global justice by engaging lawyers across borders to support civil society and an ethically active legal profession.” The team obtained $450,000 in the first tranche of Press Forward grants, and it seems likely they will continue to be funded by the biggies given that their work is getting high marks from independent locals.

By the way, if you’re still without liability insurance for defamation claims, that’s one thing Lawyers for Reporters can help you with. Get going on that now.

Reach them by writing to Sean Phee, Lawyers for Reporters’ program assistant.

Alice Dreger is a journalist, historian, and the publisher of Local News Blues. She founded East Lansing Info, a nonprofit digital investigative news service, and ran the operation for about ten years. Read more at the Local News Blues contributors page.