Legal Observer Program

Legal Observers, 1

NLG Chicago’s Legal Observer® Program is an essential part of our Mass Defense Committee’s comprehensive system of legal support aimed to enable people to express their political views as fully as possible, without unconstitutional disruption or interference by the government, and with the least onerous consequences from the criminal legal system.

The Legal Observer® Programs is dedicated to ethics, professionalism, and nonviolence.  NLG Chicago’s Legal Observers® (LOs) are trained and vetted professionals.  LOs work under the supervision of Legal Observer® Program Coordinators, who are attorneys licensed to practice law in the state of Illinois.  The Program works to build and maintain principled, trust-based relationships with the activists and organizations who request Legal Observers®.

How to Request A Legal Observer®

Email chicago.lo.program at!  We encourage organizers to contact us as soon as possible prior to the action, so that we can in order to increase our ability to mobilize our volunteers provide LOs.  We consider your request for Legal Observers® to be privileged legal communication and information provided will be kept confidential in accordance with applicable law.

To request LOs for your activity, please:

  • Get in touch with us early!  We need time to organize our LOs.
  • Be clear about your goals for your demonstration or activity.
  • Be able to meet with us in advance.
  • Be able to tell us why you want Legal Observers®, and what you may expect (even if you aren’t sure) from people coming to your demonstration, and from the police.

What Legal Observers® Do

The primary role of the Legal Observer® is to be the eyes and ears of the legal team – to observe and record incidents and the activities of law enforcement in relation to the demonstrators.

This includes documenting any arrest, use of force, intimidating display of force, denial of access to public spaces like parks and sidewalks, and any other behavior on the part of law enforcement that appears to restrict demonstrators’ ability to express their political views.

This documentation is done in a thorough and professional manner, so that lawyers representing arrestees or bringing an action against the police generally will be able to objectively evaluate the constitutionality of government conduct.  Information gathered by Legal Observers®  has contributed to an extremely successful track record in defending and advancing the rights of demonstrators, including in criminal trials and several major lawsuits against Federal and local governments for their unconstitutional actions.

NOTE:  Legal Observers® don’t give legal, tactical, or political advice, negotiate with the police for demonstrators, or speak to the press or public for demonstrators.  Specific exceptions to these rules must to be negotiated in advance.  We don’t interfere in arrests.  We don’t give away confidential information about individuals or groups.   Our notes, photographs, video and audio tape, and digitally-recorded materials are privileged and protected.

Who are Legal Observers®?

Legal Observers® are typically, but not exclusively, law students, legal workers, and lawyers who may or may not be licensed locally.  Legal Observers® are trained and directed by Guild attorneys, who often have established attorney-client relationships with activist organizations, or are in litigation challenging police tactics at political protests.

Be a Legal Observer®

Are you committed to helping people exercise their First Amendment rights of speech, expression, and assembly?  Become a Legal Observer® and provide frontline legal support.

LOs include attorneys, paralegals, legal workers, and law students, who have participated in attorney-supervised training.  Trainings emphasize professionalism, ethics, nonviolence, and the requirement that non-attorneys avoid the unauthorized practice of law.

If you would like to be trained as a Legal Observer®, please email chicago.lo.program at