The theme for the 2018 Legal Empowerment Leadership Course was “Designing Effective Legal Empowerment Programs”

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.

63 Participants from 35 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

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.

Data collection and analysis for impact
How women-led and indigenous peoples’ movement of grassroots advocates, lawyers, and activists have collected, visualized and analyzed data for advocacy.

Use of technology for legal empowerment programs
How applied approaches to technology design that can be integrated in legal empowerment programs.

Cross-cutting Sessions

Session I
Introduction to legal empowerment. 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 II
Legal empowerment, organizing and social movements. This session will explore how legal empowerment groups have combined strategic litigation and legal services with community organizing, and how paralegals and legal empowerment practitioners constitute an essential part of social movements.

Session III
Designing a strategic legal empowerment program. This session will look into the key steps and important aspects to consider in developing legal empowerment programs or in refining existing programs.

Session IV
Communications for impact. This session will tackle the use of effective communications for advocacy to present impact, and make a case for public and private investment.


You can read a detailed summary of the 2018 Leadership Course on our online forum.

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This week has been confirming and empowering! I’m so excited to take a little piece of all of you back to the US. I have never been more proud to be in trenches doing the work of empowering people to reach their highest potential. The why is easy, but the Legal Empowerment 2018 course definitely provided the how!

Jhody Polk

Jailhouse Lawyer Initiative, United States

[I learned] that social change does not depend on ‘vertical options of power’ but on the work of amazing, brave people in their communities.


Agostina Allori

Central European University, Argentina

The course provided me confidence in sharing my issues with others. The course is a great platform for me to share my ideas and perspective with colleagues. I also received wonderful suggestions that I am planning to implement in my work.

Samjhana Ghimire

Legal Aid and Consultancy Center, Nepal

The course was a unique opportunity to get to know and connect with exceptional personalities and activists, from countries that I thought we did not share common things and challenges. I was convinced in the opposite, that we have many common things that in the future will connect us. The organizers have made our stay here and learning one of the most beautiful and useful experiences that I will remember always.

Blagica Kirov

EcHO (Educational Humanitarian Organization), Macedonia