Criminal Justice

BigLaw firms and legal clinics join ACLU in initiative to stop racism in policing

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Large law firms and legal clinics are partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana in its campaign "to dismantle racially discriminatory policing practices."

The ACLU of Louisiana announced Thursday that 34 law firms and 14 law school clinics have joined its new Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial initiative, which aims to bring a wave of lawsuits that challenge racially motivated stops, seizures, searches, false arrests and uses of force across the state.

Dorsey & Whitney, Kirkland & Ellis, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Sidley Austin and Sullivan & Cromwell are among the latest participating law firms. The newest clinic partners include Georgetown University Law Center’s Appellate Courts Immersion Clinic, Pennsylvania State University Law School’s Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, Tulane University Law School’s Civil Rights & Federal Practice Clinic, and the University of California at Irvine School of Law’s Civil Rights Litigation Clinic.

Nora Ahmed, the legal director of the ACLU of Louisiana, who is spearheading the initiative, told that it also seeks to create a civil litigation model that can be used to fight racist tactics used by police in other states. She said this includes challenges to qualified immunity.

“We’ve seen when one has an excessive-force case, where you’re talking about extraordinary brutality and death, folks react in ways where it’s very clear that there was excessive force that was not necessary,” Ahmed said. “But there’s also a lot of racial profiling and harassment that happens to individuals on a daily basis. And it’s currently very difficult in an individual case to argue that one has been subjected, effectively, to racist policing.”

Ahmed said the next steps are to start training attorneys and seeking cases. Since Louisiana has a one-year statute of limitation for most civil matters, she said they hope to identify cases that happened in the past three months and file them by March 2021.

As part of their training, participating attorneys will hear a lecture from, Erwin Chemerinsky, the law dean at the University of California at Berkeley and a frequent ABA Journal contributor, on qualified immunity and equal protection doctrines, Ahmed told

“I hope that this will be a model used elsewhere around the country,” Chemerinsky said in an email to “I am thrilled to lend my knowledge about civil rights litigation to be part of this.”

The legal clinics will generally appeal unfavorable constitutional and qualified immunity decisions that result from the civil lawsuits brought by law firm partners, according to initiative guidelines published by the ACLU of Louisiana.

“We are investing early in exposing young lawyers to impact litigation,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, in its press release. “In partnering with both law school clinics and law firms, Justice Lab seeks to train the next generation of lawyers in civil rights litigation.

“By engaging young people in this movement and building a pipeline of lawyers armed with the tools and experience to combat racial injustice, we can end the epidemic of legally sanctioned racist police violence and help promote a safer and more just future for all,” Hebert added.

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