Public Interest Leadership Pipeline and Sustainability Project

“This program was transformative. I’m at a point in my career where I am taking on more leadership at my organization, but there is no infrastructure at even major nonprofits to gather the skills we need to be effective. I’m so grateful to SLS and the Levin Center for this opportunity. I am putting this into action right now!”

Kimi Narita, SLS ‘11

Since its founding, the Levin Center has engaged in research and other projects to advance the healthy development of the nonprofit legal field.  In 2014, based upon alumni requests for help and our own observations about leadership transitions in the sector, we launched a project focused on leadership development and pipeline needs. The questions we wanted to answer were whether the existing training programs met the needs of lawyers in social justice nonprofits utilizing law as one strategy; whether existing programs were affordable; and whether programs addressed the needs of lawyers early in their careers.

We surveyed current and former fellows of the Skadden Foundation, Equal Justice Works, Soros, and our Stanford Law School programs about their views on leadership development and skills training in areas beyond legal practice. Close to 500 attorneys completed the survey. Levin Center staff also interviewed individual executive directors across the country by phone and in focus groups conducted in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC to identify unmet training and staff development issues. Based upon this research, we developed a training curriculum meant to address certain gaps for lawyers earlier in their careers and not necessarily in management positions that also addressed how social justice missions affected nonprofit systems and structures.  Our ultimate goal is to be able to provide online resources that legal nonprofit managers can use internally or that other law schools can use with their graduates and local communities.

Over the past three years, we piloted a training program that responded to what we heard from the field — that there are limited affordable programs available for nonprofit social justice attorneys who are early in their careers and that such programs are critical to the long-term development of public interest lawyers and public interest legal organizations. We have trained two cohorts of public interest lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area, who provided feedback throughout the year about the training modules and methods.  They worked at organizations that engaged in litigation, policy advocacy, and direct client services in areas ranging from the rights of foster youth, community economic development, immigrants’ rights, healthy foods in schools, workers’ rights, and environmental law.

We covered a range of topics including theory of change, mission plus, and strategic planning; facilitation and project management; self-care and sustainability; revenue models, fundraising, and financial management; and building equity, diversity and inclusion capacities.

Trainings took place monthly over the course of a year, doing a deep dive into each topic in-person but also through assigned readings, reflection papers, and small accountability group interactions.  The primary trainers for the program were the Levin Center’s Diane Chin, Titi Liu, and Mike Winn.

Public Interest Leadership Pipeline and Sustainability Project 3