Law Firm Program
EDLC’s original and largest program is enlisting top U.S. and European lawyers and law firms to protect the human rights of individuals and communities in developing countries who are fighting against harm to their environment. EDLC’s cases involve important issues, often with global implications. Many of the cases employ highly innovative legal strategies that represent legal “firsts.” The clients are frequently world famous, and not only are the lawyers among the best in the world, but their firms’ commitments of resources on a pro bono basis are unprecedented. Several senior partners at the firms have told EDLC that the cases they have worked on have been among the most meaningful of their entire careers.
How it works
EDLC identifies appropriate cases, screening the cases from a lawyer’s perspective. EDLC then enlists lawyers to perform the work, and assists them in deciding on strategies to be used in the case. The lawyers perform the work in close consultation with the client, and with EDLC available on an as-needed basis to provide advice, act as a liaison, and help obtain additional forms of support.
In each case undertaken by EDLC:
- Legal services are either insufficient or completely unavailable
- There is an important role to be played by lawyers willing to provide the requested services
- The client desires assistance from the lawyers, and
- A capable and reliable local lawyer or non-governmental organization is available to serve as a team partner
EDLC often works with large international law firms, with hundreds of highly trained and experienced lawyers. Typically, a legal team from within the firm is assembled to work on a particular case. In other cases, lawyers from different firms and even different continents may form the legal team. Individual lawyers and small firms have also successfully taken on projects, or worked as team members in multi-firm collaborations. The goal in each case is to find the right match of expertise, capacity, location, and language skills. Knowledge of local law is not a requirement, and most cases do not require knowledge of another language. Some cases require one or more trips to the country where the case arises, and others are handled exclusively from the United States or Europe. Lawyers working on EDLC cases have traveled to over a dozen countries.
Types of cases
EDLC cases most often involve:
- Advocating, negotiating, or litigating on behalf of communities facing harm from projects that affect their health, land, way of life, and environment
- Helping individuals who are charged or imprisoned in politically motivated criminal prosecutions
- Vindicating the rights and land claims of indigenous peoples.
A common thread in the legal approaches devised by EDLC and implemented by the lawyers is to both emphasize and “internationalize” the human rights issues that are invariably present in EDLC cases. Whether in their legal briefs, or in their on-site or behind the scenes advocacy efforts, the lawyers demonstrate to the decision-makers how the acts complained of represent violations of international human rights law norms and the treaty obligations of their governments.
EDLC Programs in Action
American Nun Murdered in the Amazon
Sister Dorothy Stang, a staunch defender of the Brazilian rainforest and rural workers, died at the hands of paid killers in 2005. The Heller Ehrman firm was enlisted by EDLC at the Stang family’s request to push for a full investigation and prosecution of those responsible.
The lawyers traveled to Brazil to attend trials and meet with a host of officials. The killers and the ranchers who hired them were ultimately convicted, a rare achievement in this “wild west” corner of the Amazon.