Letter to NLG Members on Legal Worker Membership

Dear NLG Members, 

Over the past four years and throughout the uprisings of 2020, many people joined the National Lawyers Guild through the selection of our “legal workers” membership category, in order to help with the vital mass defense efforts taking place in nearly every city around the country. For this reason, we wanted to take a moment to explain our interpretation of who is a “legal worker.”

According to the NLG ​National Constitution​, a legal worker is defined as: “​Any person who is currently working, or who has worked, or who is training to work in any office, collective or other institution, which has as its primary function the provision of administration of legal services, information or education; or who, as an individual, provides or administers legal services, information, or education as a major component of their work.”

In the local, non-staffed chapters for which the National Office administers membership, anyone can become a member of the Guild as a “legal worker” if they want to be a part of any chapter’s legal observing/mass defense efforts. Legal Observers (LOs) “work” (i.e. volunteer) in an “institution” (i.e. the NLG), which has its primary function the provision of administration of legal services and education (i.e. collecting LO notes in support of criminal defense and civil rights litigation for protesters). LOs play an extremely important function in our organization, and denying them membership is tantamount to extracting labor from people whom we are simultaneously disenfranchising in the organization, which contradicts all of our Guild principles.

We do not have a membership category that is entitled “Legal Observers.” We only have a category for “Legal Workers,” which is the category that includes legal observers. Our sliding scale suggested rates are different from our membership categories, which are still fixed to the four groups of lawyer, law student, legal worker, and jailhouse lawyer. Our membership rates are listed on the NLG website as a guide to suggest to someone what they might pay when joining and by no means represent their own membership categories. We added a sliding scale rate for Legal Observers because we wanted to grow our membership. There are too many people who are Legal Observers who aren’t members and we want that to change. We always want to make it very clear to our local chapters that if you have LOs who are not members you should get them signed up today!

We would also like to make it clear that there are no distinctions in professional status when it comes to who is considered a “voting” member, and therefore, anyone who joins as a member of the Guild through the National Office or through a staffed chapter  should have the ability to vote in local and national elections and receive all other member benefits (although some chapters may have their own restrictions on how long someone needs to be a member of their chapter in order to vote locally). There are no tiers. If someone joins the Guild and they are a legal observer, then they are a NLG member. Legal observers who have not joined the Guild are not members. It is not stated in any of our governing documents that LOs are not, or cannot be members. On the contrary, Legal Observing is one of the most vital actions we do as an organization, so LOs who sign up as members must be considered to be members both locally and nationally.

To be clear, chapters do have the autonomy to interpret the Guild constitution how they see fit for their chapter, as stated in the constitution. While chapters may choose to interpret our constitution’s definition of “legal worker” differently than the National Office, the Mass Defense Committee, and the Legal Worker Caucus leadership, it must be voted on as matter of local chapter policy. The NLG Constitution contains no provisions that unambiguously prevent LOs from being recognized as “legal workers;” to the contrary, an interpretation recognizing LOs’ contributions to the NLG as legal workers is the policy most consistent with the Guild’s mission and values. Our goal remains to grow the organization by including people who want to support our efforts, instead of being exclusionary. 

Signed onto by the following NLG entities (This is a running list and will be updated with additional endorsements through Wednesday, 4/21)

National Executive Committee

Mass Defense Committee

The United People of Color Caucus

Legal Worker Caucus

Anti-Racism Committee

Military Law Task Force

Disability Justice Committee

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