Changing the Culture

The key to deep, lasting social change is changing the intellectual and social culture that serves as a platform for the politics, the norms, the ingrained assumptions and expectations, and certainly the day-to-day exchange of interests and playing of tactics.

In the broader field of U.S. society, conservatives did this in the 1980s with a linked limited government/family values discourse, and liberals did it a generation earlier through the civil rights and anti-war movements.  In the legal field, which both follows and leads broader societal changes, “conservative” legal thinkers (the labels are harder here) changed the culture in the 1990s with a linked strict-constructionist and law-and-economics discourse, but only after “liberals” changed it a generation earlier through critical legal theory and the clinical legal education discourses.

Sometimes these culture-changing developments are easy to follow: key cases, articles, or political or social events.  But far more often they occur under the radar, subtly but (I believe) intentionally masked, and very often using controversial methods and tactics, such as, for those with money and power, lobbying and interest-sharing deals, or for those that don’t, street protests and civil disobedience.  These are only examples: part of what makes the culture-change analysis so fascinating is the amazing variety of methods and tactics that interest and ideology groups employ.

A great illustrative article on how this has been done by Google was published recently in the Washington Post.  Google is a great subject to really explore the difficulties here because of its unique identity — I would submit that the vitality of Google’s halcyon-days promise to not be “evil” is the defining question of the technological/political/legal moment we are witnessing.  What is going on here is a damning indictment, from one perspective, and a celebration of social dynamics, from another perspective.  Food for so much thought. 

Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence, Wash Post, Apr. 13, 2014.  Describes how Google has developed a massive lobbying shop, but in particular focuses on how Google orchestrated a series of apparently independent academic symposium on the state of competition in the online search field at the same time as it was facing an FTC investigation on the same and used the symposium to mount a massive de facto lobbying campaign on key congressional and FTC contacts.

The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence.

That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects.

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The company has also pioneered new and unexpected ways to influence decision-makers, harnessing its vast reach. It has befriended key lawmakers in both parties by offering free training sessions to Capitol Hill staffers and campaign operatives on how to use Google products that can help target voters.

Through a program for charities, Google donates in-kind advertising, customized YouTube channels and Web site analytics to think tanks that are allied with the company’s policy goals.

Google “fellows” — young lawyers, writers and thinkers paid by the company — populate elite think tanks such as the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the New America Foundation.

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An early sign of Google’s new Washington attitude came in September 2011, when executives paid a visit to the Heritage Foundation, the stalwart conservative think tank that has long served as an intellectual hub on the right, to attend a weekly lunch for conservative bloggers. . . .

A few weeks after the blogger session, Heritage researcher James L. Gattuso penned a critique of the antitrust investigation into Google, praising the company as “an American success story.”

That winter, Heritage joined the chorus of groups weighing in against the anti-piracy legislation.

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[re GMU] For the past several years, the free-market-oriented law center has received an annual donation from the company, a grant that totaled $350,000 last year, according to the school. . .

Even as Google executives peppered the GMU staff with suggestions of speakers and guests to invite to the event, the company asked the school not to broadcast its involvement.

“It may seem like Google is overwhelming the conference,” [Google's lawyer] fretted in an e-mail to the center’s administrative coordinator, Jeffrey Smith, after reviewing the confirmed list of attendees a few weeks before the event. She asked Smith to mention “only a few Googlers.”

Smith was reassuring. “We will certainly limit who we announce publicly from Google,” he replied.

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Cato was not always in sync with Google’s policy agenda. In previous years, the think tank’s bloggers and scholars had been sharply critical of the company’s support for government rules limiting the ways providers such as Comcast and Verizon could charge for Internet services.

But, like many institutions in Washington, Cato has since found common ground with Google.

And the think tank has benefited from the company’s investments, receiving $480,000 worth of in-kind “ad words” from Google last year, according to people familiar with the donation.

[event] The Future of Human Rights (In Memory of Ronald Dworkin) (GULC)

4:00 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.

The Next Generation’s Human Rights Challenges

Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty (UK)

Pamela Karlan, Professor, Stanford Law School

Ken Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Jeremy Waldron, Professor, New York University Law School

Moderator Rosa Brooks, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center


6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Lessons from the Past for the Future of Human Rights: A Conversation

Robert Silvers, Editor, The New York Review of Books

Justice Stephen Breyer, United States Supreme Court

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall (ret.), Massachusetts Supreme Court

Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell KCMG QC, Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

Moderator, David Cole, Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

[event] National Lawyers Guild Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference

Panels will cover issues including social movement lawyering, discussions of the pro bono model, returning citizens and expungement projects, and housing rights. The day will include a light breakfast and lunch during a presentation with keynote speaker Azadeh Shahshahani, the President of National Lawyers Guild, who will be addressing privacy rights in light of recent NSA litigation. Registration will begin at 8:30 at the Sansom entrance to Penn Law School. Speakers and panels start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m., with a happy hour to follow at a nearby venue. Please indicate your interest in attending at 

8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. Registration/Welcome
9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. The Intersection of Social Movement Organizing and Lawyering
10:40 a.m. – 11:40 a.m. Concurrent Panels:
Questioning the Pro Bono Model
The Future of the Fair Housing Act: The Mount Holly Litigation and Beyond
11:40 a.m. – 12:40 p.m. Lunch and Keynote Speaker, Azadeh Shahshahani
1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Concurrent Panels:
Returning Citizens and Expungement Projects
First Amendment Victories
2:10 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Concurrent Panels:
Developing Your Own Firm: A Model for Community Lawyering
NLG Business Meeting
5:00 p.m. Social Hour and Networking Event



Welcome to the new Forum Nobis website.  The site accurately describes the firm and its practice areas, but in many respects is still “in beta” and being re-checked both in terms of technical matters and content.  Please stay in touch and keep apprised of developments via our twitter feed.

[event] Samuel Dash Conference on Human Rights: Multilateral Development Banks & Human Rights (GULC)

The relationship between human rights and development has been a topic of debate since well before the 1986 Declaration on the Human Right to Development. Much of the academic and policy discussion has focused on how specific bi-lateral and multi-lateral development agencies can or should incorporate human rights into their work. This conference will examine issues, challenges and opportunities in the context of an ongoing review of World Bank lending safeguards and Inspection Panel reforms, an effort to frame a post-2015 global development agenda, and a new planned development fund led by the BRICS countries.

The Samuel Dash Conference on Human Rights was established by Samuel Dash’s family and friends, Georgetown Law alumni and the law firm of Cozen O’Connor to honor Samuel Dash’s contributions to international human rights and domestic civil rights.

Confirmed speakers and moderators include: Richard Bissell, Executive Director, National Academies of Sciences Division on Policy and Global Affairs; Leonardo Crippa, Senior Attorney, Indian Law Resource Center; Professor Edith Brown Weiss, Georgetown University Law Center, former World Bank Vice President and former Chairperson of the World Bank Inspection Panel; Mac Darrow, Chief of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights Millennium Development Goals Section (appearing in his personal capacity); Jessica Evans, Senior Researcher and Advocate, Human Rights Watch; Siobhán McInerney-Lankford, Senior Counsel at the World Bank LEGAM (appearing in her personal capacity); Professor Alvaro Santos of Georgetown University Law Center; Meg Taylor, International Financial Corporation Vice President and International Financial Corporation and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman. 

To register, please contact Paulette Smith at or 202-661-6675