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The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been working since 1990 to ensure that the civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are applied to cutting edge communication technologies. Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers, innovators, coders and the general public. One of EFF's chief tools is fighting for freedom is in the U.S. courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the U.S. government or large corporations. This page is to give you a rough idea of what we consider when evaluating whether to take a case and our general intake process.
Can we take your case?
Note: Communications with EFF made for the purpose of securing legal counsel are protected by the attorney/client privilege regardless of whether EFF ultimately takes your case.
EFF is a donor-funded nonprofit organization and depends on support from the public to successfully defend your digital rights. Litigation can be expensive and time-consuming; a single case can take years of hard work by many different lawyers. Because our budget is based on donations from individuals and foundations who want to see us affect the law and Internet freedom quickly and broadly, we are very careful to maximize our impact when we litigate. Requests for legal help should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (and not to EFF's other staffers, please).
The decision about what cases to take directly as counsel usually begins with consideration of the following criteria:
1. EFF would substantially affect case law on a relevant area of law by litigating. This means that the case is on the forefront of the law concerning new technologies. A decision will help to define how the law is applied in future cases. This criteria can result in EFF taking cases that turn on legal interpretations, rather than ones turning on factual disputes, since cases based on factual disputes usually are less likely to create a wide impact and are more expensive and time-consuming to litigate.
2. EFF would help far more than one party by litigating. Sometimes this means taking the first case on a legal issue, since a good early ruling on a key issue will help many others down the line. Sometimes this means we'll file a class action lawsuit. And sometimes this means we'll defend someone who is the first (or who presents the strongest case) of many actual or likely defendants.
3. The case is in keeping with our mission and is appropriate to our expertise. We generally avoid cases that involve areas of law in which we do not specialize (like tax or immigration law), even if they also involve the internet, electronic surveillance, or other technologies. We also avoid cases where the facts aren't sufficiently related to digital issues.
4. The person seeking our help or the issue at stake cannot be addressed by the regular legal marketplace. EFF exists to take the sorts of cases that commercial attorneys cannot -- often because, despite the importance of the issues, the parties involved cannot afford counsel. If there are financially capable parties defending the Internet freedom position, we're more likely to choose to file an amicus brief rather than to represent a party directly--and sometimes we just watch from the sidelines. That way, we can reserve our limited resources for the many situations in which our pro bono help is needed.
We appreciate your understanding that we are only able to take on the cases of a small percentage of people who contact the EFF for help. By carefully selecting what we choose to take on, we make the most of our attorneys' expertise and our members' donations.
What if we can't take your case?
EFF maintains a list of attorneys, called the Cooperating Attorneys list, who have told us that they are passionate about the same things we're passionate about, and who have indicated that they have some of the same areas of expertise. If we can't help you, but feel that your case is something our cooperating attorneys may be able to assist with, we'll offer to refer you to one of them. When we do, we send basic information about your circumstances to our cooperating attorneys email list. We will send the contact information of any interested attorneys to you.
Please note that we do not screen or evaluate the attorneys on the Cooperating Attorneys list. Each person referred to a lawyer from the list should make their own independent evaluation of whether the referred attorney is the right one for the particular issue.
The Cooperating Attorneys list is private and confidential. Nonetheless, there is always a chance that an attorney who is adverse to you is either on the list or will receive our message to the list improperly. Because of this, we are careful about what information we send to the list. (For example, we do not usually disclose the actual names of those seeking help.) If there is any information you wish not to be disclosed in emails to the cooperating attorney email list, please be sure to let us know.
When we hear back from attorneys interested in your case, we will forward you their contact information. We ask that you use the subject line: EFF Referral when contacting people to whom we refer you.
While we can try to refer you for pro bono (free) representation by an attorney, please consider that requiring pro bono assistance may make it less likely that we'll be able to find someone to help. If you are requesting legal advice on a project from which you hope to make money, it's especially appropriate to pay for counsel. EFF is not paid by the attorneys on the Cooperating Attorneys list, and we follow the legal and ethical guidelines for referrals made through the list.
It bears repeating, just in case it's not yet clear: we cannot guarantee that we will be able to refer you to an attorney who will take your case, especially on a pro-bono basis.
What if you just want basic legal information?
Feel free to send your query to email@example.com. But first, please search the EFF website, which is chock full of helpful information and may answer your question entirely. Since EFF's website contains so much information, it's a great idea to see if we've already answered your question by using the search box on the upper right hand corner of any eff.org page.
If you don't find what you're looking for, it's possible that we can help you with some basic information, but please understand that we cannot and will not give you legal advice unless we affirmatively agree to take on your case. Note also that the line between information and legal advice can be fine, and we may tell you that you need to speak to another lawyer even if you think you're only seeking legal information. In many cases, your local bar association (usually organized by county) can provide the best help--most offer referrals to low cost consultations.
What if EFF says no?
There are many reasons for which we may not be able to help you directly or provide you with a referral. Sometimes both our attorneys and our cooperating attorneys are simply too busy to take on another case. Sometimes the issue doesn't impact enough people. Sometimes your issue is too far outside our area of emphasis. Sometimes the help you need isn't legal help at all.
If we can't offer you a referral, we'll try to help you find another resource. When in doubt, however, your local bar association is always a good place to start.