Public Advocates Inc. is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing and transit equity. We spur change through collaboration with grassroots groups representing low-income communities, people of color and immigrants, combined with strategic policy reform, media advocacy and litigation, “making rights real” across California since 1971.
We believe that by engaging in strategic partnerships, policy and media advocacy and litigation, we will increase the capacity of grassroots organizations to shape public policy and discourse, and that we can also positively influence public opinion, the media, policy makers and courts to hold business and government accountable.
We do this to promote the expansion of civil rights and resource equity and create a mobilized community base to ensure that all Californians have the fundamental rights and equitable allocation of resources they need to build vibrant communities. We choose to address areas such as education, housing, transportation and health that are fundamental to enabling individuals and communities to fulfill their potential, and we choose to challenge systemic problems in ways that will achieve maximum impact.
Public Advocates is proud of having served as an incubator for the launch of numerous significant issue advocacy organizations, as part of its role in building capacity for communities to engage in public policy advocacy and creation of broad based coalitions
Challenge the persistent, fundamental causes and effects of poverty and discrimination that limited the opportunities of the poor and people of color.
One of the oldest public interest law firms in the nation, Public Advocates Inc. was incorporated in fall 1970 and opened its doors in September 1971. The firm, funded initially with generous support from the Ford Foundation, was conceived in part as a reaction to the rigid restrictions on the scope of California Rural Legal Assistance representation. The incorporators of the firm were Robert Gnaizda, J. Anthony Kline, Sid Wolinsky and Peter Sitkin.
The need for a broad-based public interest law firm to address civil rights issues affecting the daily lives of low-income communities was evident as soon as we opened our doors. The new Public Advocates engaged in a wide range of cutting edge legal issues – many of them still at the core of our practice – from school finance, urban development, transportation policy, food and nutrition issues, military base redevelopment, and language access, to employment discrimination in banks and universities, health services disparities, infant formula advocacy, telecommunications and discriminatory bar exam criteria. Priorities and tactics were set to not only meet the challenges of the time, but also to have a broad and long-lasting impact.
Very early on more than a dozen actions were filed on behalf of clients such as La Raza Unida, the National Organization for Women, Officers for Justice, Self-Help for the Elderly, League of Women Voters, and the Sierra Club. Working at the national, state and regional level, the firm was initially best known for its litigation expertise and success in pursuing innovative legal strategies to protect low-income communities and civil rights.
From the beginning Public Advocates recognized the importance of collaboration with clients, communities and ally organizations, staking out the goal in 1971 that its work would be “with, not just for, their constituents,” and that commitment deepened over time. Outside the organization, more public interest groups arose, and the courtroom became a less hospitable place for progressive activism.
As Public Advocates evolved and matured, we developed a distinctive multipronged approach to civil rights advocacy incorporating policy advocacy, coalition building, communication and legal strategies. We also recognized that we could be most effective when we created a long term strategy for engagement with a significant policy arena, and generated a legal strategy incorporating alliances, subject area expertise, and implementation and communication plans.