Legal Aid for Entrepreneurs

  • Prosperity
  • 1991

The first client of the Institute for Justice was Taalib-Din Uqdah, who with his wife wanted to earn a living braiding hair in Washington, D.C. The city demanded he become a licensed cosmetologist at a cost of thousands of dollars he didn’t have. The fledgling public-interest law firm got the regulation turned back, and it has since won many similar cases for humble entrepreneurs hoping to provide for their families as motel owners, taxi drivers, food-truck operators, tour guides, and interior designers. IJ attorneys note that most such regulations don’t protect the public but rather provide anticompetitive privileges to a business or interest group. “There is a profound difference between being pro-free enterprise and being pro-business,” co-founder Chip Mellor observes. Adam Smith warned that business interests will often try to control a free market, he notes, “but without government, they can’t do that for any length of time.”

In addition to fighting in court, the Institute for Justice has a legislative team that helps states and local governments reduce and eliminate burdensome and unneeded regulations that discourage citizens from supporting themselves and living independent lives. The group has grown to a staff of 80 spread across seven states, about half of them litigating in their four central mission areas: economic liberty, property rights, school choice, and protection of free speech.

Initial seed funding for the Institute for Justice came from industrialist Charles Koch in 1991. His brother David Koch has provided generous long-term funding to keep the group thriving. The Olin, Bradley, Sarah Scaife, Kirby, Donner and Lambe foundations were other early supporters, and investor Robert Wilson was a major donor. The Annie E. Casey Foundation provided sponsorship to help IJ build an ongoing legal clinic at the University of Chicago’s law school where small businesses can get legal help. Individual donors, though, now supply 85 percent of the contributions needed to meet the institute’s $19 million annual budget.