People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild

Throughout its history, People’s Law Office has proudly been active within the National Lawyers Guild, participating on the local and national level.

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in 1937 as an association of progressive lawyers and jurists who joined together to fight for the reconstruction of legal values to emphasize human rights over property rights. At its initial convention the Guild passed resolutions demanding anti-lynching legislation, an end to restricted suffrage, and more public defenders. The Guild supported labor’s right to collective bargaining, and to organize “free from employer interference of any kind,” supported a full-scale Social Security program and called on the federal government to create neighborhood “legal aid bureaus” to provide full services for those unable to afford legal fees. The Guild is the oldest and most extensive network of public interest and human rights activists working within the legal system. See

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Guild members, including People’s Law Office lawyers, represented Vietnam War draft resisters, antiwar activists and people arrested during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, while we helped organize support for the NLG lawyers who were representing defendants in the Chicago 8 Conspiracy trial. We were active participants in the national movement within the NLG to admit legal workers as equal members of the Guild, which achieved success in 1971, and on a local level we worked on many Guild projects, including helping produce a local newsletter, “Up Against the Bench.” Throughout the 1970s the Chicago chapter NLG offices were in the same building as the PLO, and several PLO members were active officers within the Chicago chapter.

In the early 1980s both the PLO and the Chicago NLG chapter were active supporters of the progressive mayoral candidacy of Harold Washington, speaking and canvassing on his behalf. After his election, we and members of the Chicago NLG chapter engaged in important discussions of the proper role of progressive lawyers as municipal corporation counsel. Throughout PLO’s existence the issues raised in many of PLO’s cases have been shared by the NLG nationally, including the recognition and struggle of the Palestinian and Puerto Rican people, representing the Attica prisoners, providing legal support for progressive groups and fighting against government brutality and repression.

The office took a leading role in the creation and production of the NLG affiliated Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report, a newsletter containing articles on the most current issues in police misconduct and civil rights litigation under section 1983 and related statutes, and are regular contributors to articles in the newsletter. In 1999, we and a handful of NLG members from across the country working on police misconduct cases founded the National Police Accountability Project (NPAP) “with the intent of helping end police abuse of authority and to provide support for grassroots and victims’ organizations combating police misconduct.” We continue to serve on the board of directors of NPAP, which has become the nation’s foremost listserv and provider of continuing legal education to the police misconduct civil rights plaintiff’s bar.

The NLG has honored People’s Law Office lawyers and legal workers at its national conventions, while the local Chicago NLG has also honored us at its annual dinners, including a 30th anniversary celebration in 1999. PLO has consistently been in the leadership of the local NLG, has promoted and supported its activities, has attended and presented at conventions and panels and has always maintained a serious commitment to mentor NLG law students and help them develop into progressive lawyers. The purpose and philosophies of the NLG and PLO are virtually inseparable, both committed to serving people who are the victims of government power, and, as the NLG Preamble aptly declares, both working from the basis that “human rights shall be held more sacred than property interests.”

History by Section

Early Days
The Murder of Fred Hampton
Government Surveillance
Representing the Panthers in Downstate Illinois
Attica New York Prison Riots
The Fred Hampton Murder Trial
Prisoner Rights Work
Puerto Rican Independence Movement and the Puerto Rican Community
Fred Hampton Appeal
George Jones Street Files and False Imprisonment
Representing Demonstrators, Protestors, and Activists
Puerto Rico Work Continues
Police Brutality and Torture
Continuing to Represent Demonstrators and Activists
The Attica Prison Civil Case
Continuing Work in Solidarity With Puerto Rico
Fighting the Death Penalty
Sexual Abuse Litigation and Illegal Strip Search
Back to the Supreme Court
The 1996 Democratic Convention
Policy and Practice Cases
False Arrests and Convictions
Continuing to Defend Dissent
Continuing the Fight for Justice in the Chicago Police Torture Cases
Criminal Defense for Civil Rights Abuses
Jail Suicide
Opposing the Criminalization of the LGBTQ Community
People’s Law Office and The National Lawyers Guild