What is a Legal Observer?
Legal Observers are individuals who attend protests, demonstrations, or direct actions to observe and record law enforcement actions towards protesters. Legal Observers do not act as part of the protest, but carefully document the actions of the police with the goal of later using that information as an objective account of the events in criminal or civil legal cases. Legal Observer are identifiable by neon green hats that say “National Lawyers Guild” and black vests with neon green labels.
Legal Observers are present to monitor police behavior, not the behavior of protesters. Legal Observers are not protest marshals or “peace police.” We do not tell protesters what to do, what not to do, or tone-police their messages.
What are the benefits of arranging a Legal Observer through the NLG?
The visible presence of Legal Observers can deter unconstitutional behavior by law enforcement during a demonstration. Legal observers are trained to watch police-protester interactions, document police activity, and collect evidence including notes, photos, video, and witness statements in the event of arrests or police violence. Further, after the NLG accepts an organization’s request for a Legal Observer, NLG attorneys will form an attorney/client relationship with the organization. This provides a number of benefits to organizers:
- Forming an attorney-client relationship gives us a stronger legal argument that any evidence compiled by our legal observers is privileged attorney work product, and therefore not subject to subpoena for use by the government.
- If Legal Observers witness an arrest, they are able to quickly relay that information to our volunteer attorneys to coordinate jail support, preserve evidence, and provide information.
What are the eligibility requirements for organizations seeking Legal Observers at an event?
Community members can request Legal Observers for protests, demonstrations, or direct actions. The NLG does not enforce parameters on the types of tactics protesters use. The NLG seeks to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights over property interests. Our full mission statement can be read here. We do not accept LO requests for events that advance platforms contrary to our mission.
Who can be a Legal Observer?
The NLG’s Legal Observers are typically, but not exclusively, law students, legal workers and lawyers who may or may not be licensed locally. Leal Observers are trained and directed by experienced NLG attorneys. If you are interested in becoming a Legal Observer with the NLG, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest. We’ll let you know of the eligibility requirements and, if applicable, the next training session in the area.
How do I request Legal Observers?
As practicable and subject to our resources, the Seattle Chapter provides Legal Observer support to the activist community. There are no fees or costs associated with this service. It is a volunteer-driven service.
- If you are planning a protest or demonstration and would like Legal Observer support from the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, then please email SeattleLORequest@gmail.com to make a request.
- When you reach out, just state that you’re making a request for Legal Observers. Please clearly provide your contact information (name, phone number). As soon as possible, one of our Legal Observer Coordinators will follow-up with you to gather more details about your request.
If your request is urgent, please indicate the urgency in the subject line of your email.
What happens next?
If we can fulfill your request, your protest or demonstration will be assigned a Legal Observer Coordinator (or, Point-of-Contact) who will guide you through the process and next steps.