Perhaps you’ve seen us at a march or rally. You can’t miss the green hats; they’re the brightly colored beacons that let everyone know who we are and why we are there. We are National Lawyers Guild legal observers.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 as a progressive bar association; the first bar association in the country to be racially integrated. Our mission is “to use law for the people, uniting lawyers, law students, legal workers, and jailhouse lawyers to function as an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests.” NLG’s aim is to “… bring together all those who recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of workers, women, LGBTQ people, farmers, people with disabilities and people of color, upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends; who seek actively to eliminate racism; who work to maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them; and who look upon the law as an instrument for the protection of the people, rather than for their repression.”
NLG advocates on many fronts, including environmental justice, progressive drug policy reform, prison abolition, labor movement support, international human rights work, and of course, protection of the right to protest. It is that protection that is the heart of our legal observer and mass defense programs. Our mass defense program includes legal observation on the ground, know your rights trainings, jail hotlines and jail support for those who are arrested during protests, and legal representation in protest cases.
We only provide legal observers for events that align with our mission and our progressive values. As legal observers, we are there to document any interactions with police, especially those that could later have criminal or civil legal consequences. In the Seattle chapter, we limit legal observer work to those who are law students, lawyers, or legal workers who understand the sensitive nature of the confidential relationship that is the basis for our work. We seek to provide as much legal protection as possible for the protesters we are there to support.
In order to maintain these legal boundaries:
We are not event security. We are not there to monitor or judge protesters’ actions or tactics, or pass judgment on “good protesters” or “bad protesters,” a distinction our chapter rejects. We do not work with police or law enforcement agencies or act as liaisons between them and the protesters.
What we do is document and observe police interactions. We try to get names, dates of birth, and contact information for arrestees so our mass defense team can connect them to bail funds, visit them in jail, make sure they have needed medications, or connect with friends and family to let them know where they are. We hope that our presence can be a deterrent to violent police tactics and if not, we make sure we’ve documented those tactics for legal advocacy later. We are there to make sure that the right to protest is protected and that the state is held accountable for their actions toward protesters.
As legal professionals we hold a place of privilege and power that very few get; what we do with that privilege and power is truly telling of our individual values. It is a critical moment of reckoning in our nation and one in which protest is playing a crucial role. As attorneys, NLG legal observers are using their privilege and power to advocate for protests to be safe spaces to amplify the voices of BIPOC communities that have had their voices stolen for so long. We stand with those communities, side by side, as we are pelted with chemical and physical weapons, while we document the state’s attempts to continue to silence them. We will not be deterred.
If you are an organizer in the community, we urge you to reach out to us. We do not enter spaces to which we are not invited out of respect for your group. If you would like to learn more about what we do or have legal observers at your event, email SeattleLORequest@gmail.com if you are in Seattle, or OlympiaLORequest@gmail.com if you are in Olympia.
Legal Observers observe and record law enforcement actions towards protesters. We're 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. We don't act as part of the protest, but carefully document the actions of the police.
Legal Observers do not tell protesters what to do, what not to do, or tone-police their messages. We are not protest marshals or “peace police.” We're present to monitor police behavior, NOT the behavior of protesters.
Legal Observer are identifiable by neon green hats that say “National Lawyers Guild” and black vests with neon green labels.
The goal is to later use that information in criminal or civil legal cases as an objective account of events.
Legal observers with the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild are attorneys, law students, and legal professionals. We screen for potential conflicts such as those in positions with law enforcement or prosecution. Legal observers are required to sign confidentiality agreements acknowledging the privileged nature of our work.
We limit our legal observer program to those trained in the legal field who understand and have experience working within the context of confidential attorney-client relationships. If an interested individual does not meet our legal observer criteria, we have other volunteer teams they can engage in to further our mission.Volunteer now
Community members, activist, and organization can request Legal Observers for protests, demonstrations, or direct actions. The NLG does not enforce parameters on the types of tactics protesters use. We do not accept Legal Observer requests for events that advance platforms contrary to our mission.
There are no fees or costs associated with this service. It's 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, please email SeattleLORequest@gmail.com to make a request.
When you reach out, please:
1) state that you’re making a request for Legal Observers. If your request is urgent, please indicate the urgency in the subject line of your email.
2) 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. Your Legal Observer Coordinator will guide you through the process and next steps.
Our presence helps deter unconstitutional behavior by law enforcement
We're trained to document police activity, collect evidence in notes, photos, videos, and witness statements for the event of an arrest.
We will relay information quickly to volunteer attorneys to coordinate jail support, preserve evidence, and provide information.
It's a free and volunteer led service by attorneys, law students, and legal professionals.