In a world of growing inequality, attacks on the rule of law, and deep uncertainty, there is no better time to examine legal action as a key tool for interrogating and challenging power and advancing justice.

However, courtroom judgments are only part of the solution. Many funders have moved beyond strategies that focus solely on the single big win. What follows is a more complex and – we think – far richer analysis of how legal action at its best is long-term, rooted in community movements and often taking place a long way from the rarefied atmosphere of the courtroom.

We know that funding for legal action remains too little and too concentrated among a handful of committed funders or on very specific, often siloed, issues. Our experience is also that many funders find this work daunting, believing that it requires legal knowledge or new grantmaking practices. As so many of us refocus our efforts on how to better listen to the communities we serve, the specialised work of legal action and legal strategies may seem to smack of elitism.

We know that the law cannot change the world by itself. But we do want to emphasise that these tools are critical in terms of incremental and systemic change. For funders of all kinds, there are numerous pathways available to support this work. For some, this will mean direct financing for strategic litigation; for many, it could simply mean core or project funding for organisations working to advance justice and the rule of law at community level, movement level or within the courts by lawyers.

All of us working in philanthropy can and should question whether our funding supports the communities we serve. We should aim to see what justice looks like for them, within their context, and help people make their own, informed decisions on legal action. This may involve re-imagining justice and how the law interacts with communities most in need. It may well involve challenging power at a range of levels within society. In the end, it will be their knowledge, courage and leadership that will create lasting social change and this requires philanthropy to be bold in its approaches and generous in its support.

Read the full article about legal philanthropy by Nicolette Naylor and David Sampson at Alliance Magazine.