Providing legal assistance to whistleblowers is a top priority of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC).
NWC’s Legal Assistance Program (LAP) helps whistleblowers exercise their rights in three ways. Through the LAP, NWC:
- educates and trains potential whistleblowers through workshops, reports and regular postings to our website, blog, and social media channels;
- assists them in finding a whistleblower attorney; and
- supports high-impact whistleblower litigation.
How does NWC assist whistleblowers with finding an attorney?
NWC works with an independent public interest law firm, the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund (“Fund”), which provides a secure intake form that allows whistleblowers to submit basic information about their case on a confidential basis.
Potential whistleblowers looking for a whistleblower attorney are encouraged to submit their concerns to the Fund’s intake site. Once submitted, the intake form will be reviewed by a highly qualified whistleblower attorney, who will (after gathering additional information from the potential whistleblower, as appropriate):
- With permission from the potential whistleblower, send the intake form to NWC for its independent evaluation of how best to assist in finding counsel,* or
- Provide the potential whistleblower with a copy of a whistleblower attorney directory, or
- Suggest other non-profits they may consider contacting (if they have raised issues outside the realm of whistleblower law).
*Please note, all information submitted to the Fund’s intake site and forwarded to NWC is protected under attorney-client privilege and is considered strictly confidential. However, in reviewing an intake form and assisting the potential whistleblower in finding counsel, neither the Fund nor NWC is acting as the whistleblower’s attorney or engaging in the practice of law.
For more information about how the Fund’s whistleblower intake process works, please read the Whistleblower Legal Assistance FAQs.
Upon receiving an intake form from the Fund, NWC carries out its own evaluation. If NWC determines that an attorney on its Cooperating Attorney Network may be able to provide assistance, NWC will forward your intake to the Cooperating Attorney. The Cooperating Attorney will directly contact the potential whistleblower and if an agreement is reached, provides legal representation. Any such agreement is strictly between the Cooperating Attorney and the whistleblower. NWC does not provide legal representation. Please see the page related to the Cooperating Attorney Network to better understand this process, found here.
If we cannot locate a Cooperating Attorney to help you, we will inform you about this. We understand that the Fund provides each whistleblower with a free directory of attorneys who have agreed to review whistleblower cases. If you have not received a copy of this directory, please contact NWC and we will ensure that the NWLDEF provides you with this information.
Please understand that until you have a signed representation agreement with an attorney you are not being represented. You are welcome and encouraged to continue to try to locate an attorney while NWC is reviewing your case and/or while a Cooperating Attorney is reviewing your case. In some cases, the relevant statute of limitations provides a narrow time frame for filing with the appropriate court or agency and thus your rights may potentially be foreclosed if your legal filing is delayed.
Some of our Cooperating Attorneys have agreed to provide a donation to NWC of 15% from attorney fees they collect from representing a whistleblower. This donation must come strictly from the attorney fees obtained by the Cooperating Attorney. The whistleblower-client cannot be charged for this donation, and the amount of a reward obtained by the whistleblower cannot be reduced in any manner based on this donation. The scope of the obligation to pay this donation is strictly between the Cooperating Attorney and NWC. Under no circumstances whatsoever will any whistleblower be asked to make this donation.
NWC uses donations obtained from Cooperating Attorneys to support its non-profit advocacy on behalf of whistleblowers.
How does NWC support high-impact whistleblower litigation?
In a limited number of cases, NWC may determine that the success of a case will be critical for strengthening whistleblower protections and combatting corruption. In this event, NWC may elect to make donations of staff time and money to support the case.
Working on these high-impact, NWC-supported cases provides three unique benefits to whistleblowers and the cause of whistleblowing:
- We recruit top attorneys from leading private and nonprofit law firms to represent the whistleblower;
- The law firms typically offer their services to whistleblowers with no upfront payment of fees or expenses, and charge contingency fees that are significantly below the market rate (Contingency fees are fees charged only if the whistleblower secures a financial reward); and
- If the whistleblower prevails, an important precedent is often set that furthers the cause of whistleblowing, and the law firms donate a percentage of attorney fee recoveries to the National Whistleblower Center to advance its mission of whistleblower protection.
Although it is not a law firm and does not provide legal services, NWC supports high-impact whistleblower cases with communications and policy work and deploying its attorneys to work on cases at the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the members of its Cooperating Attorney network.
NWC takes a “campaign approach” to these selected cases, mobilizing its grassroots supporters as well as its bipartisan allies on the Hill and within agencies to call attention to the myriad benefits the cases provide to the public. It also works to strengthen and defend the whistleblower laws on which the cases depend.
An example of how NWC assists with communications is its work in support of an anonymous whistleblower challenging Facebook’s deception of shareholders and others regarding terror and extremist content on its website. In May 2019, NWC worked with the Associated Press to produce a hard-hitting story on a pending whistleblower petition before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to help the whistleblower increase the visibility of their case before the SEC. The Associated Press also published an update in September 2019 following a supplemental filing.
An example of how NWC provides policy supports is its work in Congress to address delays in tax fraud whistleblower cases. In July 2019, the Taxpayer First Act was signed into law and included anti-retaliation protections proposed by NWC for tax fraud whistleblowers who file claims under the IRS whistleblower program. The Act also included measures proposed by NWC that improve IRS communication with tax whistleblowers about the status of their submission. NWC had long championed these provisions, and the passage of the Act marked a success for all tax fraud whistleblowers.