Impact Fund Articles

The latest news in social, civil, human and environmental rights articles written by the Impact Fund expert staff. We keep you up to date on industry trends and key cases related to justice litigation.  

Class Actions 101 Why We All Need Class Actions.

Originally published in Class Action and Derivatives Suit Committee Newsletter, (ABA Section of Litigation, Summer 2012)

By Jocelyn D. Larkin Impact Fund

With class actions much in the news, and the Supreme Court deciding a couple of pro-employer blockbuster cases last term, a new practitioner might well wonder: “have class actions hit their ‘sell by’ date?” Has Rule 23’s half century procedural experiment run its course? Should our merry band of CADS members pack up our instruments and head to IP or bankruptcy law? Not quite yet. Let’s pause to remember why this whole thing started in the first place .... read more.

The Impact Fund: From the Living Room to the Supreme Court

Impact Fund Founder, Brad Seligman, c. 1992
Impact Fund Founder, Brad Seligman, c. 1992

December 12, 2014 - Today is Founder's Day, the 22nd Anniversary of the founding of the Impact Fund. Our newest team member, Teddy Basham-Witherington, got to catch up with Impact Fund founder, Brad Seligman, the other day and interview him about the roots and first twenty years of the Impact Fund.

Brad Seligman’s father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg. Selig, as he was known, was a New Deal kid and lawyer turned TV/movie producer who instilled in his son the value of public service and giving back. “Looking back,” says Brad, “it’s pretty obvious that I was destined to be a lawyer and, after a few of the obligatory 60’s detours, I decided to conduct a five-year experiment to see if I might be cut out for the legal profession.” He’s been renewing that experiment ever since.

By 1992, Brad was turning forty, a single parent and enjoying an extremely successful legal career in private practice. Brad had just finished trying the Stender v. Lucky Stores case and his daughter turned to him and said, “I’m bored with you being a lawyer -- I want you to quit your job!” After some thought, he decided to take her advice. Fortunately, he received a substantial buy out.

Brad confides, “I have to admit, my first thought was, how do I get rid of all this money?” On reflection, he decided not to be so passive about it and started thinking about how he could use the money in a proactive way that would also use his expertise. He even sought out legal advice. One of the people he spoke with joked, “why don’t you just buy a red sports car?”

Anyone who knows Brad knows that sports cars aren't really his thing. The answer was, however, close at hand.

Brad fondly recalls, “it occurred to me that making grants to prospective litigants to advance social justice would be a good idea and my friend and mentor, the great Ralph Abascal, gave me the idea of the grants to be repaid and recycled if the cases were successful.”

He pulled together nine talented friends (all expert lawyers committed to social justice) in his living room Saturday afternoon on 12th December 1992, and the idea became the Impact Fund; his living room group, the founding board.

The cover of our very first Annual Report
The cover of our very first Annual Report

Enthused, he rented a one-room office on Solano Avenue in Albany, endowed the organization, and honestly believed they’d give away all the money in four or five years.

His first big surprise was that the folks he started talking to wanted technical advice as much as funding. “There was a real need,” recalls Brad, “and I spent more time on the phone talking strategy than making grants.” This led to the birth of the Impact Fund’s training program and the fledgling organization held its first training at Hastings Law School in 1994.

Meanwhile, the stock market was climbing and this, together with the grants that were being repaid, meant that four years later, there was still money in the bank. So, by 1996, it seemed like the Impact Fund was here to stay. Faced with this new reality, the board and Brad agreed to make the organization permanent. He recruited his sister, Lucy, to come out from Michigan and help with administration.

In an audacious move, the Impact Fund applied to the State Bar of California for IOLTA funding – which was not an obvious fit at the time. After a couple of years of lobbying, the funding was granted, and in 2000, Jocelyn Larkin was hired as “part-time” Litigation Counsel.

The Back Cover of the 1993 Annual Report lists the first Board
The Back Cover of the 1993 Annual Report lists the first Board

The Impact Fund was flying, even though there wasn’t an office – yet – for Jocelyn. The State Bar funding allowed the Impact Fund to evolve into a sustainable organization. It was also what was needed to really expand the training efforts, which became more consistent and structured with the, now, hallmark annual Impact Fund Class Action Conference and Impact Fund Training Institute.

Hiring Jocelyn enabled the Impact Fund to expand its role in litigation, so that it could fulfill the role of lead or co-counsel in public interest class actions, author amicus briefs and provide even more pro-bono consulting.

Jocelyn finally got her desk in 2001, when the organization moved into its current offices in the Berkeley Marina, where it continued to staff up and concentrate on the core activities that had been established.

A string of successes followed in cases such as Williams v. City of Antioch, Brown v. Sacramento Regional Transit District, and Glover v. Potter. The Impact Fund also took on Walmart in what would have been the largest ever gender discrimination class action. Despite more than nine years of success in the class action, in 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Walmart on a close 5-4 vote, and de-certified the class. The Court’s decision only strengthened the resolve to fight for social justice. As Jocelyn said at the time, "I’d rather lose and be on our side than win and be on theirs.”

Today, Brad serves as a Superior Court Judge in Alameda County
Today, Brad serves as a Superior Court Judge in Alameda County

Meantime, Brad had been giving serious thought as to how to pass on the Impact Fund to its next leader, “I didn’t want to be executive director for life or for the Impact Fund to stand or fall by dint of my personality alone. It took a while and my (thankfully) unsuccessful application to be the dean of a local law school for the organization’s board of directors to realize I was serious about a succession plan,” he quipped.

Much to his relief, Jocelyn was interested in carrying the torch and so a thoughtful transition process was set up to groom her to assume the mantle, which she did, first as deputy executive director, and then as Executive Director in 2010. Happily, this all coincided with the next stage of Brad’s journey - being appointed a Superior Court Judge for Alameda County by Governor Jerry Brown in December 2012.

Today, Brad is, “enjoying life on the bench and proudly watching the Impact Fund from afar.” As his successors, we thank him for his vision, his stewardship and for showing us the way.

Living in a Post-Dukes World: What is the Meaning of "Trial by Formula"?

 April 2013 - Impact Fund Executive Director Jocelyn Larkin and Staff Attorney Della Barnett have written an article in response to the efforts of class action defense counsel to assign a meaning to the “Trial by Formula” phrase from Wal-Mart v. Dukes that is not supported by the case. The article explains that “Trial by Formula” does not establish a due process right to individualized proof, is not a condemnation of aggregate proof in general, and should not apply to aggregate evidence when offered to show classwide liability or damages.

Class Certification Strategies: Dukes in the Rear View Mirror

 March 2013 - Professor Melissa Hart of University Colorado Law School discusses class certification strategies post-Dukes.

Latest Issues in Arbitration and Class Actions

March 2013 - Leslie A. Bailey of Public Justice, Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon, and Kalpana Kotagal of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll put together an outline of their panel at this years Class Action Conference discusses the latest issues in arbitration and class actions.

Older Articles

Experts Witnesses in EEOC Class Actions: What Does Wal-Mart v. Dukes Mean for Future Cases?

by Impact Fund Executive Director Jocelyn Larkin Revised July 2012