National Lawyers Guild Taps Social Justice Synergy

Social Justice Synergy | Newsletter Article

The Guild was founded in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association. Chapters around the country organize and litigate on local issues. The organization has more than 100 chapters at law schools, where students work on a variety of projects. Twenty issue-based national committees work in virtually all areas of public interest and movement law.

Guild members, which include non-lawyer legal workers and inmate legal experts, are currently defending protestors, political dissidents, immigrants and others struggling against oppression and discrimination.

“After the 2016 election, we had a strong upsurge in membership,” says Maggie Ellinger-Locke, a member of the Executive Board of the Washington, D.C. chapter. “We felt it was time to explore who we were and how we could be most impactful.”

The need for training also became apparent after members learned of an incident of racism within the Guild. “I was horrified,” said Maggie. “I shared this with other lawyers in the national organization and we realized that by allowing this to occur, we were perpetuating white supremacy, which is against what we stand for and who we are.”

Anti-Oppression Training

Social Justice Synergy was contracted to provide training for the executive board and others in the D.C. chapter.

“The training focused on how unpacking racism, white privilege and injustice can help the National Lawyers Guide do its important work of standing up to oppression,” says Iris Jacob of Social Justice Synergy.

“Iris and her co-facilitator led us through a number of exercises and discussions,” says Maggie. “We worked toward developing a common language around these issues so we can communicate with each other more effectively.”

As is often the case in social justice trainings, the subject matter brings emotions to the surface for many participants. “At times the conversation was heated,” says Maggie. “Iris did a remarkable job of navigating that—helping us discuss issues while holding us accountable.”

Efforts Continue

The training led the Guild’s group to form two committees: Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) and The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC). These committees meet regularly to examine the issues and report back to the Guild, and are also forming at local chapter levels.

“In addition, we will be working with Iris to survey the climate locally in our organization,” says Maggie. “We also want to reach out to past members who are no longer active, particularly people of color, and find out why they left.”

“Our work with Social Justice Synergy helped us inform our conversations with each other,” Maggie says. “It’s helped us to have more effective communications strategies, especially around race, gender, class and other systems of power. And we’re looking forward to working more with Iris.”

“National Lawyers Guild is such an amazing group that’s doing important work,” Iris says. “I’m proud to do anything I can to help them succeed.”