Local journalists in need of legal help may turn to the Protecting Journalists Pro Bono Program (ProJourn).
ProJourn, now emerging from pilot status, is a network of law firms and corporate legal departments that could handle up to 300 matters per year. The estimated annual value of pro bono services will be $3.5 million by the end of 2024.
The effort is being supported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Microsoft Corp., the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Davis Wright Tremaine.
A survey of journalists found that 51% do not have libel insurance or other forms of media liability insurance. Moreover, the study determined that freelance journalists and small nonprofit and independent newsrooms have a growing need for legal support, particularly regarding public records access and prepublication review.
Of 170 journalists surveyed, 90% support increasing pro bono services. And 50% say their legal needs are unmet.
“A distinguishing aspect of ProJourn is the partnership and close training that law firm lawyers with First Amendment expertise are sharing with in-house corporate lawyers, states Sima Sarrafan, co-founder of ProJourn and assistant general counsel at Microsoft.
Sarrafan adds, “By working side-by-side, in what we call our ‘2-in-a-box model,’ we’re bringing corporate lawyers into the fold and thereby expanding the pool of lawyers who can help journalists in need.”
Law firms initially joining ProJourn are BakerHostetler, Covington & Burling, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Kilpatrick Townsend and McGuireWoods.
Financial pressures are preventing more newsrooms from hiring attorneys, as reporters face “a growing culture of secrecy” in government.
“Threats to journalism are becoming more urgent,” says Reporters Committee ProJourn Director Flavie Fuentes. “ProJourn will increase the pro bono help out there for journalists who need a lawyer.”