Staff Attorney – Bail Reform

  • ACLU
  • New York, NY, USA
  • Feb 14, 2018
Full time Law

Job Description

Career Opportunity

Staff Attorney – Bail Reform [CLRP-26]

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation

Trone Center for Justice and Equality, New York City

For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Whether it’s ending mass incarceration, achieving full equality for the LGBT community, advancing racial justice, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties and civil rights cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach. With more than one million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., for the principle that every individual’s rights must be protected equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, national origin, record of arrest or conviction.

The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a full-time Staff Attorney, who will work in the Trone Center for Justice and Equality (Trone Center), specifically in the Criminal Law Reform Project (CLRP), but also with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice (CSJ) and the various other projects/programs in the Trone Center to develop, pursue, and conduct litigation aimed at bail reform in America. This position is based in New York City.


The ACLU’s Trone Center focuses on America’s issues around crime, punishment, and racial justice. There is a growing consensus among criminal justice experts and policymakers that America’s criminal justice system has relied too heavily on incarceration as the first and often only response to behavior that could better be addressed through other means. The issues of race and class permeate the entire criminal justice system, and today robust discussions about race in America are bringing issues of racial justice into the spotlight. This is a critical time in the fight to advance racial justice and to truly reform the criminal justice system. The Trone Center contains four Projects/Programs working towards these goals: the Capital Punishment Project, the National Prison Project, the Racial Justice Program, and the Criminal Law Reform Project. 

The ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice (CSJ) is committed to a 50 percent reduction in the nation’s jail and prison populations and to challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. With 2.2 million people behind bars in this country, the United States has earned the disgraceful distinction of being the world’s largest jailer. The nation’s system of mass incarceration severely limits the ability of people, disproportionately people of color, from participating in the social, political, and economic life of this country. The CSJ works with partners to build a movement for social change and win state-based reforms needed to cut the size of our nation’s incarcerated population by 50 percent.

Bail reform will be a major step toward the 50 percent reduction in the jail population. At any given time, pretrial detention jails nearly half a million people who have not been convicted of a crime, fuels over-incarceration by inducing guilty pleas, causes people to lose jobs and housing, and subjects them to longer sentences, along with physical and financial damage. The outcome of widespread pretrial detention ruins individuals’ lives, harms whole families, and has a negative impact on whole communities. All too often, people are detained solely due to their inability to pay a bail bond. Such wealth-based detention reproduces the structural racism already embedded in the criminal justice system.

The strategic approach of the CSJ work on bail will be to aggressively pursue reform work that frees a significant number of people who would otherwise be detained under existing pretrial systems (without a significant increase in surveillance of people released). The Staff Attorney will work directly with the CSJ bail reform team, which will lead legislative campaigns for bail reform and advocacy with state policymakers who have rule making authority in this area, and with the various Projects/Programs in the Trone Center. 


The Staff Attorney will work closely with the CSJ bail reform team and others working in the Trone Center to develop and execute a plan for bail reform litigation. In collaboration with the working group, specific responsibilities will include but not be limited to:

  • Litigating in state and federal courts, including appellate courts, throughout the country, including researching and drafting pleadings and briefs, engaging in discovery and motion practice, and conducting evidentiary hearings, oral arguments, and trials.
  • Developing litigation theories, such as potential causes of action targeted at the bail bond industry, directed towards eliminating wealth-based pretrial detention, or challenging costly and onerous pretrial release conditions. 
  • Providing technical assistance and expert legal advice to local ACLU affiliates, cooperating attorneys, and others who seek assistance from the CSJ or the Trone Center, including helping to develop a litigation and settlement strategy tool kit for litigators doing work in the pretrial justice arena.
  • Developing new cases and collaborating on non-litigation advocacy projects.
  • Serve as a resource for ACLU legislative and policy work and advancing ACLU policy goals through public education, organizing, and participating in coalitions.
  • Collaborate with staff across the organization, including in other projects within the ACLU’s Legal Department, Communications, Affiliate Support and Advocacy, the Washington Legislative Office, and state affiliates.
  • Engaging in public speaking and articulating ACLU views to a variety of audiences.
  • Supervising legal fellows, interns, legal administrative assistants, and paralegals.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to diversity within the office using a personal approach that values all individuals and respects differences in regards to race, ethnicity, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, ability, and socio-economic circumstance.
  • Commitment to work collaboratively and respectfully toward resolving obstacles and/or conflicts.


Applicants should possess the following qualifications:

  • J.D. degree and a minimum of six years of litigation experience, preferably in federal court, including experience as lead counsel. Individuals with more experience are strongly encouraged to apply. Responsibilities will be commensurate with experience and demonstrated skill level.
  • Valuable prior experience will also include civil litigation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as experience involving the direct representation of individuals in pre-trial/bail settings.
  • Appropriate bar membership permitting practice in New York.
  • A demonstrated commitment to civil liberties, racial justice, and public interest law.
  • A demonstrated ability to work independently as well as within a team. Ability to foster and contribute to a collaborative team environment is essential.
  • Excellent legal research skills.
  • Demonstrated ability to perform complex legal analytical work.
  • Excellent communication skills, both verbal and writing.
  • Self-motivated, diligent, and able to meet strict deadlines while under pressure.
  • Familiarity with criminal justice issues (i.e., as a criminal defense lawyer, formerly incarcerated person, or prosecutor) is desirable.
  • Ability to travel.
  • Commitment to mission of the ACLU.


The ACLU offers a generous and comprehensive compensation and benefits package, commensurate with experience and within parameters of the ACLU compensation scale.


Please send a cover letter, current resume, the names and contact information of three references, and at least one legal writing sample by email to:  email to: Reference [CLRP-26/ACLU] in the subject line.

Please indicate in your cover letter where you learned of this career opportunity.

Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

This job description provides a general but not comprehensive list of the essential responsibilities and qualifications required.  It does not represent a contract of employment.  The ACLU reserves the right to change the description and/or posting at any time without advance notice.

ACLU is an equal opportunity employer. We value a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture. The ACLU encourages applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, veteran status and record of arrest or conviction.

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We encourage applicants with disabilities who may need accommodations in the application process to contact:  Correspondence sent to this email address that is not related to requests for accommodations will not be reviewed. Applicants should follow the instructions above regarding how to apply.

The ACLU comprises two separate corporate entities, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Foundation are national organizations with the same overall mission, and share office space and employees. The ACLU has two separate corporate entities in order to do a broad range of work to protect civil liberties. This job posting refers collectively to the two organizations under the name “ACLU.”