The 2016 Legal Empowerment Leadership Course was focused on international rule of law assistance and the extent to which it addresses concerns about reducing poverty and fostering economic development. The hope of this course was to, at least partially solve the analytical and empirical puzzle that international actors face when they intervene as they address the demand and the supply side of justice.

Held in partnership with Central European University, Open Society Justice Initiative, and Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at New York University School of Law, the course brings together outstanding practitioners, researchers, and government officials from all over the world. Our goal is to cultivate a global cadre of leaders who are committed to legal empowerment and connected with each other.

61 participants from 25 different countries identified a concrete challenge, growth opportunity or research question before the course, and then developed an action plan during the course with the help of co-participants and faculty.


The course featured a comparative exploration of common themes across three case studies. Themes included legal empowerment methods; training, supervision of frontline staff; learning and evaluation; use of media and communications; financial sustainability; and pathways to scale.

Case Studies

Ensuring Effective Delivery of Essential Services
How a women-led movement of grassroots advocates, lawyers, and activists is enhancing accountability and advancing the rights of health, food and housing of marginalized communities in South Asia.

Legal Empowerment and Securing Citizenship Rights
How grassroots legal advocates are empowering stateless populations to recognize and protect their citizenship rights.

The Paralegal Movement in the Philippines
How the movement of community-based paralegals have adapted and innovated over the decades, to bring about large-scale change in the Philippines.

Cross-cutting Sessions

Introduction to Legal Empowerment- History, Concepts, Quandaries
This introductory session will explore what we mean by legal empowerment. It will address basic concepts, history, and philosophy. The session will offer a vocabulary and a set of questions that we will return to throughout the course.

Session I: Recognition and Financing of Community Based Justice Services
This session will focus on how community-justice services are recognized and financed by governments.

Session II: Combining Legal Services and Organizing
This session will explore how legal empowerment groups have combined legal services with community organizing.

Session III: Diversifying Revenue for Legal Empowerment: Client Contributions and Social Enterprise
This session will focus on innovative efforts to diversify revenue and increase financial sustainability for legal empowerment, including client contributions and social enterprise.


You can read a detailed summary of the 2016 Leadership Course on our online forum.

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… I was looking for solid practical guidance for the establishment and management of a paralegal system in post-conflict development that would equip me with first-hand advice from grassroots practitioners. In this regard, the course offered space for sharing and discussing both challenges and successful actions for change from the ground. I am particularly grateful for the support I received from experienced colleagues who took their time to clarify my doubts, questions and who filled my gaps. I am sure that my association’s future work will greatly benefit from these opportunities.

Helena-Ulrike Marambio

VisAbility e.V., Germany

This course opened me up to a whole new perspective on legal empowerment. Prior to the course my knowledge on the subject was very limited and the course succeeded to fill this knowledge gap. The diverse backgrounds of the participants and resource persons and the inspiring stories of massive success of legal empowerment initiatives as well as innovative financing models were simply amazing. I am now armed with the knowledge and networks which will enable me to explore initiatives of my own and offer better support to my organization and its partners working on legal empowerment in West Africa

Tem Fuh Mbuh

Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Senegal

… The course offered great insight into common challenges in the legal empowerment field and the wisdom of some of the most experienced practitioners. The week was full of teachable moments, but it also offered the opportunity to reflect and really focus on the challenges we face in our own work. The energy, passion and humility of the participants in the room helped renew my own spirit and I’ve come away better equipped, better connected to practitioners from around the world and fired up to carry the mission forward.

Omar Maniar

Legal Aid Office, Pakistan