The American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) seeks applicants for the full-time position of National Legal Director in the Legal Department of the ACLU’s National office in New York, NY. This is a hybrid role that has in-office requirements of two (2) days per week or eight (8) days per month. 

Mission & Background

The ACLU is the nation’s premier guardian of the civil rights and liberties that define our democracy. Fundamental freedoms are under attack ranging from free speech, to voting, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights to racial justice. The work of the ACLU has never been more important or more urgent.

“Our mission is to realize this promise of the United States Constitution for all

and expand the reach of its guarantees.”


The ACLU was founded in 1920 to defend and protect the civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s civil rights laws. It is known for assembling broad coalitions of conservatives, moderates, and progressives to advance civil liberties on a wide range of issues, standing up for these rights even when the cause is unpopular and sometimes when no one else will. Whether it’s ending mass incarceration, achieving full equality for the LGBT community, fighting book bans or defending free speech, 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. When the Trump Administration began an attack on civil liberties, the ACLU was the first organization to challenge its policies. The same holds true during Democratic administrations, whenever civil rights and civil liberties are in jeopardy.


The ACLU consists of two separate nonprofits with a combined budget of $358M between the ACLU and the ACLU Foundation. The ACLU is a 501(c)(4) corporation, and the ACLU Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Donations to the Foundation are tax deductible. The ACLU is funded by its 1.7 million members and donors. The 52 Affiliates are separately incorporated nonprofits, though a unified fund- sharing system allocates resources between and among Affiliates and the National Office. A National Board of Directors – with representatives from each of the Affiliates – sets overall policy for the national organization. There are over 2,200 ACLU staff members across the nationwide network.

The organization experienced substantial growth since 2016 almost doubling the budget and staff size, while ensuring increasingly diverse representation. This growth was fueled in large part due to its ability to quickly mobilize and challenge threats to civil rights and civil liberties so prevalent during the Trump Administration. As the organization has experienced rapid growth, there is work currently underway to ensure priorities, work and resources are aligned and that the values espoused externally are experienced internally.

 The ACLU, with headquarters in New York City, is the nation’s largest public interest law firm, litigating across the nation and all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (appearing before the body more than any other organization, other than the U.S. Department of Justice). Litigation is not the only tool the ACLU utilizes, however.  The National Political Advocacy Department drives electoral and policy change in the U.S. Congress and in state capitols, and the Communications and Marketing Department engages in strategic communications to educate the public about issues. Integrated advocacy and nationwide initiatives are strengthened by the Affiliate Support and Nationwide Initiatives department.

Legal Impact

Through high-impact litigation on groundbreaking cases – including advocating for the wrongfully accused “Scottsboro Boys,” contributing to creation of the “Miranda warnings” requirement, and wins via Griswold (securing access to contraceptives), Gideon (guaranteeing access to counsel), Obergefell (requiring same-sex marriage recognition), and others – the ACLU has established core doctrine on a range of issues including racial justice, reproductive freedom, equal protection, the right to privacy, and rights for people in criminal proceedings, among others. With attorneys nationwide, it handles thousands of cases each year on behalf of clients whose rights have been violated.

Knowing that a democracy is only as free as the people it serves, and as opponents attempt to dismantle our values and norms, the ACLU remains steadfast in preserving our civil rights and civil liberties. In doing so, the organization – and legal team – has doubled down on Defending Democracy (i.e., promoting access to the ballot, fair maps, and free speech), without losing focus on Protecting Priority Issues (e.g., Reproductive Freedom, Transgender Justice, Immigrants’ Rights, and Systemic Equality).

And this work has never been more important. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs and bracing political headwinds, the ACLU’s litigation to block abortion bans in states has protected access for millions of people around the country.  And the ACLU completed the recent U.S. Supreme Court term on the winning side of 11 of the 18 cases in which it filed briefs. The ACLU’s win (in partnership with LDF and Arnold & Porter) at the U.S. Supreme Court in Allen v. Milligan paved the way for fairer, more representative congressional maps in Alabama and Louisiana; it was amicus in Moore v. Harper, in which the court dismissed a radical argument that would have opened the gate further to partisan gerrymandering and racial discrimination in voting; the court safeguarded tribal sovereignty in Brackeen v. Haaland; and in a win for free speech rights, the court ruled in United States v. Hansen that the government cannot criminalize speech that merely encourages a noncitizen to enter or stay in the United States unlawfully.

Building on these successes, the next Legal Director must also be clear-eyed in addressing growing hostility in the U.S. Supreme Court and federal courts on civil rights and civil liberties.  Beyond the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court recently struck down the use of race-based affirmative action in higher education.  And while the ACLU blocked bans on gender-affirming health care in six states, only two of those successes remain following appeals.  In short, the ACLU’s National Legal Director must provide strategic leadership in an unusually challenging and unprecedented time in this country.  They must explore a new set of tactics, strategies and priorities given growing judicial hostility to civil rights and civil liberties.  

For more information about the ACLU, please visit www.aclu.org and review the 2023 annual report here.


The National Legal Director, reporting to the Executive Director (Anthony Romero) and serving on the ACLU’s Senior Staff as one of its executive leaders, will play a critical role contributing to the organization’s forward-looking strategy to address and protect the aforementioned issues, while directly leading its litigation efforts. Directly supervising 150 litigators in the national office and providing substantive leadership to another 400 litigators in state affiliates as well as managing co-counsel relationships with 100 cooperating law firms, the National Legal Director directly oversees the ACLU’s U.S. Supreme Court docket and provides leadership for the national office’s litigation in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. This senior leader relies on and partners with seasoned and talented Deputy Legal Directors who oversee the dockets of their respective issue areas.

Key responsibilities include:

  • In alignment with the ACLU’s mission and strategic aims, developing an overarching legal strategy designed to protect civil liberties both in specific instances, and with the aim of promoting broader protections for affected individuals.
  • Serving as lead strategist and counsel for all ACLU cases in the U.S. Supreme Court
  • As the senior-most lawyer at the ACLU, working in close coordination with political and communications counterparts, ensuring integrated – and maximally effective – efforts and outcomes.
  • Directing national litigation priorities, while providing advice and counsel as needed on legal programs of ACLU state affiliates, which operate independently but in close alignment with colleagues in the headquarters on important issues or cases.
  • Ensuring that the organization maintains a consistent legal philosophy within the framework of ACLU policy.
  • Providing guidance and counsel in the ongoing growth and development of the ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative, complementing U.S. Supreme Court efforts
  • As the ACLU’s chief lawyer, engaging in direct litigation in select significant cases, while assisting ACLU lawyers at both the national and affiliate levels in developing strategies for addressing difficult and complex doctrinal questions
  • Working with the Executive Director, keeping the Board of Directors informed of the ACLU’s legal agenda and serving as a public spokesperson for the national legal team and the organization on a wide range of civil rights and civil liberties issues.

Candidate Profile

This is an extraordinary opportunity for an influential leader to play one of the most prominent and coveted roles in a nationwide effort to protect and expand the rights and liberties that define American democracy. We seek candidates with the requisite legal/litigation expertise and stature, especially with respect to Supreme Court litigation, to lead the national legal strategy on behalf of the ACLU. They will build upon a legacy of excellence and be part of a period of remarkable change and impact for the ACLU, at what is a critical juncture for civil rights and civil liberties in our nation. The ideal candidate will have a stellar reputation in legal strategy and litigation and unquestioned personal and professional integrity. They will have a strong moral center, passion and determination, excellent judgement and diplomatic skills and the courage to lead within a highly complex and often challenging environment. The next National Legal Director must also possess outstanding communications abilities, excelling in media interviews and in appearances before large audiences.

In terms of the performance and personal competencies required for the position, we would highlight the following:

  • Litigation Expertise: this individual must possess superlative legal credentials, bringing significant litigation experience, as well as the ability to issue-spot and proactively develop a litigation strategy that advances and defends individual rights and fundamental freedoms; ideally, this would include a track record at the federal level, along with insights into and experience supporting state-level issues
  • Supreme Court Insights: given the lead role this National Legal Director will play regarding ACLU cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Legal Director must be a respected, tested legal expert with significant experience preparing and litigating cases before the Supreme Court. In addition, given the ACLU’s investment in the State Supreme Court Initiative, the Legal Director should also have an understanding of state-level landscapes
  • Setting & Delivering Upon a Strategic Vision: building upon unparalleled legal acumen and interpersonal skills, the National Legal Director must demonstrate outstanding judgment and critical thinking skills, with examples of developing and executing comprehensive legal strategies that support an organization’s mission and desired outcomes; the ability to assimilate and balance many different views and interests of various constituent groups is critical
  • People & Departmental Leadership: a track record effectively running a diverse, high-performing team and/or organization, with an inclusive philosophy and outcomes orientation, is critical; given the ACLU’s nature, this must include being savvy in both direct and indirect people leadership, plus the ability to work effectively with political advocacy, affiliate support, communications and development teams
  • Mission & Values Alignment: embodying unimpeachable reputation as someone who embodies the ACLU’s ideals, including a commitment to representing “unpopular causes” and speakers with whom the ACLU disagrees when civil liberties are threatened; this individual must represent the organization well externally in all venues, leveraging a persuasive interpersonal style and compelling logic


The ACLU values equity, transparency, and clarity in pay. Consistent with the ACLU's compensation philosophy there is a set salary for this role. The ACLU also has a locality adjustment policy that applies to salaries.  The annual salary for this position is $435,000, reflecting the salary of a position based in New York, NY. This position is subject to a hybrid schedule of 2 days/week or 8 days/month in-office.   


For over 100 years, the ACLU has worked 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 LGBTQ+ community, 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 cases and issues to defend all people.

We know that great people make a great organization. We value our people and know that what we offer is essential not just their work, but to their overall well-being. 

At the ACLU, we offer a broad range of benefits, which include:

  • Time away to focus on the things that matter with a generous paid-time off policy
  • Focus on your well-being with comprehensive healthcare benefits (including medical, dental and vision coverage, parental leave, gender affirming care & fertility treatment)
  • Plan for your retirement with 401k plan and employer match
  • We support employee growth and development through annual professional development funds, internal professional development programs and workshops


Equity, diversity, and inclusion are core values of the ACLU and central to our work to advance liberty, equality, and justice for all. For us diversity, equity and inclusion are not just check-the-box activities, but a chance for us to make long-term meaningful change.  We are a community committed to learning and growth, humility and grace, transparency and accountability. We believe in a collective responsibility to create a culture of belonging for all people within our organization – one that respects and embraces difference; treats everyone equitably; and empowers our colleagues to do the best work possible. We are as committed to anti-oppression and anti-racism internally as we are externally. Because whether we’re in the courts or in the office, we believe ‘We the People’ means all of us.

With this commitment in mind, we strongly encourage 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, or any other characteristic protected by applicable law.    

The ACLU is committed to providing reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities. If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need assistance applying online, please email benefits.hrdept@aclu.org. If you are selected for an interview, you will receive additional information regarding how to request an accommodation for the interview process.


Russell Reynolds Associates has been retained to manage this assignment, led by the team below. Please direct all interest and recommendations, including a CV and letter of interest, to the following email address: ACLULegal@russellreynolds.com 


TR Straub

Russell Reynolds Associates

1700 New York Avenue, NW
Suite 400
Washington, DC  20006-5208

Kimberly Archer

Russell Reynolds Associates

1700 New York Avenue, NW
Suite 400
Washington, DC  20006-5208



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