The Washington, D.C. based Student Press Law Center continues to expand its nationwide pro bono Attorney Referral Network. The SPLC — the only legal assistance agency in the country devoted exclusively to protecting the First Amendment and freedom of information rights of the student media — encourages all lawyers with either experience or a strong interest in handling media law issues to complete and submit our volunteer attorney questionnaire to the Center to be considered for pro bono referrals.
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center combats suppression of student expression and provides effective legal assistance for student journalists and their advisers. Much of the Center’s work educates and informs student journalists and the public about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment. The SPLC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan charitable 501(c)(3) corporation. All legal services are provided cost-free to student journalists, faculty advisers and those working with the student press.
While initial requests for legal assistance are handled by the SPLC staff, it is occasionally necessary for the Center to assist student journalists in finding local attorneys that have expressed a willingness to handle legal matters on a pro bono basis. Calls to the SPLC come from all fifty states and the District of Columbia.
Legal assistance ranges from making a phone call on a student’s behalf to drafting an opinion letter, and in some instances, actual litigation. Cases involve work in areas such as censorship, defamation/invasion of privacy, copyright and freedom of information law. In addition, a number of SPLC volunteers have conducted group workshops or seminars for student journalists on various media law topics. Attorneys have generally found the work exciting and rewarding. In addition to providing valuable experience in media law, the cases often generate a great deal of community interest — and, at times, national media exposure.
The amount of time given to Student Press Law Center referrals is up to you as all work is done on a pro bono, volunteer basis. Those lawyers accepting a referral can count on closely conferring with the SPLC’s staff.
Attorney volunteers at work
- Ben Marks, of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, helped a New Jersey high school journalist overcome her principal and school board’s censorship so that she could publish a story concerning grievances filed against the district’s superintendent.
- Gayle Sproul, of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, assisted Pennsylvania students in their fight against a punitive publications policy imposed after editors voted to stop using the word “Redskins” in the paper.
- Tom Burke, of Davis Wright Tremaine, helped California students win the repeal of an intrusive school policy against “inappropriate” speech on social media.
- Guylyn Cummins, of Sheppard Mullin, helped California high school journalists successfully resist a subpoena for their confidential sources.
- Sandy Michaels, of Martin Brothers, secured the dismissal of unfounded criminal charges against two Georgia college journalists who were arrested while photographing the “Occupy Atlanta” demonstrations.
- James Manning and Scott Talkov, of Reid & Hellyer, helped win a key First Amendment ruling at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of college journalists at Oregon State University, whose newsracks were illegally confiscated and dumped by campus administrators.
Become an attorney volunteer
If you have a strong commitment to the principles embodied in the First Amendment and want to utilize your legal skills in the battle for a free, uninhibited and robust student press, the SPLC would like to hear from you. Please take a moment to complete the following questionnaire. Your answers will help us successfully match those who contact us for legal assistance with the attorney in their area best prepared to handle their particular problem. If you have additional questions or would like more information, please contact Executive Director Hadar Harris.