AWR Blog

Grant proposal to support hiring of AWR legal staff – Summer 2022

Why we need to fund AWR senior staff attorney/legal director position, and potentially a junior staff attorney position

Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a 501(c)(3) non-profit conservation organization based in Montana, is seeking a grant to help fund our litigation program. We are seeking to hire one position that could pay a competitive salary for a senior staff attorney/legal director position.

The job description for this position includes litigating complex environmental lawsuits in federal courts to protect wildlands and endangered species in the Northern Rockies, as well as reviewing and approving the hiring of contract attorneys for additional cases as needed.

For decades, the Alliance has been hiring attorneys on a case-by-case contract basis. We have never had a staff attorney or legal director. The problem with doing this is that after the contract attorneys win several cases for us, they get hired as staff attorneys by other environmental groups. We then have to start over with new attorneys, who often lose their first few cases. This cycle is extremely inefficient at achieving the goals of our organization.

Over the past decade, it has become clear to us that the best public land and wildlife protection attorney in the Northern Rockies, and maybe even the country, is Rebecca Smith. Ms. Smith was the law school valedictorian at the University of Montana, and she has a master’s degree in Environmental Science and a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy.

In law school, she was an editor of the Public Land Law Review, and a member of the National Moot Court team. She has pub-lished scholarly articles and currently teaches as an adjunct law professor at the University of Montana ABIII School of Law.

In 2018, she received the Kerry Rydberg Award for excellence in public interest environmental litigation from the University of Or-egon Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

In 2019, then-Chief Judge of the federal District of Montana held: “Now, a decade into private practice, Ms. Smith is a sought-after litigator with extensive courtroom experience.” In a subsequent decision, the same federal judge held that Ms.Smith is “operating at the highest level of public interest environmental litigation in Montana.”

We cannot agree more. Ms. Smith has won the vast majority of lawsuits for us and in the process protected hundreds of thousands of acres of public forest lands, as well as the rare and endangered species that call those lands home – species like the grizzly bear, wolverine, and lynx. We – and the threatened and endangered species that benefit from her work – cannot afford to lose her.

Another problem with our current limitation to hiring Ms. Smith only on a contract case-by-case basis is that Ms. Smith can only agree to take on those cases she is 99.9% sure that she will win. She invests hundreds of hours into each case but only gets paid by the defendants in the lawsuit if she wins the case and then sues the defendants to pay her legal fees.

This sets up a lopsided system where only the cases with the most flagrant legal violations ever get litigated. In other words, we can only litigate the cases that have clear, existing legal precedent on our side. But there are many, many more cases out there that would address important environmental problems. However, be-cause those cases are in areas of the law that are not fully developed, there is no guarantee of winning, which means we cannot convince Ms. Smith to take those cases. However, if we could offer Ms. Smith a competitive salary, commensurate with her extensive courtroom experience and high standing in the legal community, this problem would be resolved. She could afford to take on important cases without being limited to only those cases that she is sure of winning.

We are working to raise enough money that would enable us to offer a competitive salary to Ms. Smith to hire her as our senior staff attorney and legal director. She would litigate important cas-es and also oversee the hiring of contract attorneys for additional cases as needed.

A competitive annual salary, commensurate with Ms. Smith’s ex-perience and standing in the legal community, is $150,000.00. We seek a grant to pay her this annual salary, as well as related ex-penses, for the next five years. The related expenses are employer contributions to Social Security, Medicare and unemployment in-surance, health insurance, costs for licensing by the Montana and Idaho State Bars, continuing legal education costs, office rent, legal malpractice insurance costs, and travel costs.

We have attached a budget spreadsheet displaying these costs. As set forth in the attached spreadsheet, the total grant amount would be $201,300 per year for five years, or a lump sum total amount of $1,006,500.

If we raise this money, we could ensure that Ms. Smith would keep representing us and would have the financial security to be able to afford to take on important cases for us regardless of whether she is 99.9% likely to win or not. This frees us up to cre-ate new and important legal precedent in developing areas of the law. Basically, it allows us to blaze a new path forward that others may follow in subsequent cases.
Additionally, as further set forth in the attached spreadsheet, if we raise enough money, we could also afford to hire a junior staff attorney. Ms. Smith could train and supervise this attorney to litigate additional cases for us to protect even more habitat. As set forth in the attached spreadsheet, the additional grant amount to fund a junior staff attorney would be $109,800 per year for five years, or a lump sum total amount of $549,000.

For the reasons discussed above, our goal is to raise $201,300 per year for five years, or a lump sum total amount of $1,006,500, to hire Ms. Smith as our Senior Staff Attorney and Legal Director. If possible, we have a secondary goal of raising an additional $109,800 per year for five years, or a lump sum total amount of $549,000, to hire a junior staff attorney who could be trained by Ms. Smith.

Click here to see an itemized budget supporting this proposal.

Thank you for your consideration. Our work is critical to protecting the wildlands and rare and endangered species of the Northern Rockies. We hope you will join us in this endeavor.



Learn about our track record in fighting to protect the Northern Rockies, what we use donations for, and other actions you can take.

Join our community on Facebook.


Share This