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American Civil Liberties Union 132 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036
www.aclu.org (212) 549 2500     

The Scoop  

Defending rights since 1920

Since its founding in 1920, the ACLU has fought tooth-and-nail to uphold its mission: "to assure that the Bill of Rights is preserved for each new generation." Guided by this mandate, the ACLU has litigated or participated in a list of matters that reads like an AP U.S. History primer: the Scopes Monkey trial, the deportation and imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, anti-communist loyalty oaths, school desegregation, the freedom rides, and abortion rights, among others. Recently, the organization has been busier than ever. Notable 1999 undertakings include: challenging the closed impeachment debates, opposing the death penalty for Matthew Shepard's killers, litigating against cyber-censorship, and fighting police brutality in New York City.

America's largest public interest law firm

The ACLU casts itself as the nation's largest public interest firm. In addition to its 60 attorneys on staff, the organization maintains a nationwide network of 2,000 volunteer lawyers who handle almost 6,000 cases annually. ACLU chapters can be found in 300 towns, and affiliate offices are open in most major cities. Most of the ACLU's funding is provided by contributions from its 275,000 members. In the 1990s, however, the ACLU has taken heat for accepting funding from tobacco companies.

Punching bag

In its unwavering quest to protect civil liberties, the ACLU has taken on some fairly unsavory clients, and managed in the process to antagonize groups across the political spectrum. Extreme members of the right-wing align "card-carrying member[s] of the ACLU" with the communist party, and denounce the organization "as a scourge of religion." Members of the left have their gripes as well. One community activist complained to the Boston Globe that the ACLU starts "with a decent principle - confidentiality and AIDS, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression - but they lift it out of the context for which it was designed. This trivializes civil liberties, It changes the whole idea behind it."

Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe had comments of his own: "Even when I find myself disagreeing with some specific position of the ACLU, I think it's important that there be an institutional voice that articulates this point of view - to make sure that the courts do decide where to draw the line between the claims of community cohesion, on the one hand, and claims of dissidents and lonely voices and the downtrodden on the other hand. It would be a great shame if they were any less vigilant."

Getting Hired  

Rather than actively recruit, the ACLU announces openings in scholarly journals and newsletters and collects resumes. Insiders warn of stiff competition, and advise job seekers to get experience as a volunteer or member before applying. One insider notes: "Many of the lawyers have interned with an ACLU [affiliate] while in law school or have worked as volunteer attorneys on ACLU cases. Specialized knowledge in an ACLU area can be helpful."

Another contact points out that the competitiveness of the process may be a function of office managers. Noting high turnover of office managers, this insider advises candidates to "send your resume and a cover later stating specifically what type of work you are interested in obtaining. Remain persistent in following up with the office."

Our Survey Says  

High job satisfaction

Our ACLU informants love their jobs, and, in the words of one insider, "recommend it highly." ACLUers describe their co-workers as "dedicated, dynamic, and hyper-intelligent." ACLU staff members say "we're proud to be a part of one of the most prestigious and controversial organizations in the country." One individual says she enjoys "being in the maelstrom of contemporary legal and social issues." The high job satisfaction seems to compensate for the pay hit that accompanies life in the public sector. "Generally ACLU employees are motivated by something other than money," vouches one ACLU source.

Laid back offices

Despite being in the maelstrom, ACLU offices are described as "extremely laid back. No one flinches if you sit on the couch to read a report rather than at your desk." Although it may vary by location, the attire is "generally up to the employee." Some wear jeans and T-shirts; some wear suits.

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