On a rolling-deadline basis, FIRE accepts applications for access to pro bono attorneys on contractual issues, including insurance, liability, and indemnification, as described below.
Introduction and Purpose
Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) functions as a service bureau for freelance investigative reporters. Since 2021, FIRE has been offering contract-related legal assistance with the support of Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
FIRE's legal-assistance program arranges access to attorneys to provide contractual solutions that would facilitate public-interest freelance investigations—specifically by helping freelancers produce stories under the protection of their outlets.
For testimonials of reporters who have used the Legal Consultancy, visit here.
If you need legal assistance not related to your contract, or if you have an immediate legal problem with a story that’s already published or broadcasted, additional help may be available from allied organizations.
To be eligible for FIRE's contract-related legal assistance, applicants may report from or reside anywhere—but they must be freelance reporters or editors working on or planning investigative stories associated with English-language outlets operating under U.S. media law.
If otherwise eligible, you do not need a contract in hand: You can simply learn the implications of story contracts and media insurance for future projects. But if you have been asked to sign a specific agreement, or already have signed one, you would be eligible to receive a customized contract review.
No prior engagement with FIRE is required. The service may be paired with support from other journalism organizations.
Note: If you are an IRE Freelancer Fellow, you do not need to apply for a Consultancy; it comes automatically with your fellowship. See IRE for details.
Any recipient of legal services may be invited to apply for the Virtual Newsroom, which provides expansive staff editorial time, a range of reporting resources, and story grants of up to $12,500. Once you receive the legal assistance, FIRE staff would invite you to apply for a Virtual Newsroom at its sole discretion. You would apply for the legal assistance first, by the guidelines below.
Overview of service
The FIRE Legal Consultancy, the only program of its kind nationwide, serves investigative journalists freelancing for print and broadcast periodical outlets (as opposed to book authors). It does not require an annual membership or any fee.
If selected for this service, reporters would have access to one of FIRE's experienced First Amendment attorneys, contract negotiators, and libel litigators—for up to one hour of pro bono advice on topics detailed below.
For successful applicants, FIRE would coordinate email exchanges with the participating attorney; and where necessary would arrange phone or Zoom access to the attorney.
FIRE maintains strict confidentiality and anonymity for all applications and communications associated with this service. FIRE itself does not provide legal advice, only arranges access to attorneys for customized suggestions on contractual inquiries, including contract language.
How to apply
- The email should briefly summarize the nature of your investigation, specify your legal question or concern, identify the intended publisher or broadcaster, and clarify whether you have already signed a contract.
- You may also indicate “I am also interested in reporting services" and/or "I am also interested in a Virtual Newsroom grant”
- In the Subject line of your email, please specify “Legal Inquiry” or "Legal and Reporting Inquiry"
- Emails must go to email@example.com—no other FIRE address.
- We would request certain application materials (e.g., resume) only if your inquiry is accepted.
Availability for this service is limited. We try to respond to inquiries quickly. But it sometimes takes two weeks or more.
whether to sign a particular contract and why;
how to understand and respond to an indemnity clause or related vulnerability;
whether or how to use the FIRE Contract Template;
how to approach non-liability contractual issues, from copyright to severability.
If a particular inquiry turns out to require more time (e.g., for negotiation or legal representation), FIRE could not guarantee that additional time would be available pro bono. We expect the single pro bono hour to suffice for most inquiries—and to ensure basic service for the maximum number of reporters.
FIRE legal assistance: the bigger picture
FIRE’s Legal Consultancy is designed to ensure that all parties fully understand the implications of story contracts and media insurance. It’s part of FIRE’s recent efforts to shore up freelance investigations by strengthening legal protections for freelancers. (Editors, producers. and media executives have availed themselves of Legal Consultancies—and may inquire about insurance and freelancer protections by the method above.)
With support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, FIRE has also incorporated relevant intelligence from the Legal Consultancies into a series of educational guides known as the FIRE Tip Sheets on Liability.
Freelancers are encouraged to take a brief survey on contractual needs here.
For more information on other FIRE programs, visit our Guidelines and Application.