Written by: Nicole Black
Every once in a while, a case comes along that begs to be litigated. There’s an injustice being done and someone has to do something about it. For Alan Gura, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gura & Possessky, P.L.L.C, the Flying Dog Brewery First Amendment case that he’s currently handling is just such a case.
The case arose in 2009, when the Michigan Liquor Control Commission rejected Flying Dog’s application for a license to sell one of its beers in Michigan. The reason? The beer’s label, which depicts a cartoon dog and includes the text, “If you’re lucky, your b****h will look this sexy after 20 years,” was deemed by the Commission to be “detrimental to the public’s health, safety and welfare.”
According to Alan, of all the cases he’s litigating right now, this one is a prime example of outlandish and unnecessary governmental regulation: “It’s a great case. I’m shocked at the liquor commissioners’ behavior. It reminds me of something out of Footloose or The Scarlet Letter. It’s 2011 and we’re banning products because we’re offended by names and artwork? It’s truly ludicrous. It shows the importance of suing people to make sure they adhere to the Constitution. This is petty bureaucracy. Do they not have anything better to do with the tax payers’ money?”
Although the Flying Dog case has gotten its fair share of press, the publicity pales in comparison to the coverage of the two cases for which Alan is best known: the Heller and McDonald cases, both of which were pivotal Second Amendment cases he successfully argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. While Alan continues to handle Second Amendment cases and speaks frequently about this topic, these notable Second Amendment cases don’t define, or limit, his practice.
Instead, Alan chooses cases that align with his desire to expand individual freedoms by reducing governmental interference in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s by litigating a precedent-setting Second Amendment case or handling a beer label dispute, as he explains it, “I try to find intellectually engaging work that will make America a better place. I want to increase individual freedoms. I dislike the petty tyranny, annoying regulations and government nannies trying to control everything. That’s not the society we agreed to under the Constitution.”
For Alan, the ability to handle cases that inspire him is what makes every day worthwhile. But, he acknowledges that he wouldn’t be able to do this if he hadn’t started his own firm in 2001—that decision was one of the keys to his success: “I didn’t want to go back to the firm situation, so I opened my own firm. I wanted to have a certain level of freedom and flexibility and still maintain control over the quality and type of work I handled, something you can only get from being self-employed. It’s wonderful to be self-employed and to have 100% control over the work you do. That’s a great way to work.”
He admits that it wasn’t easy to hang out a shingle, but notes that changes in technology helped make it possible: “The way that small firms function today is different from how the big firms operate. Small firms are able to do what they do because of technology. There is no way I could have the practice I have without advances we have made in technology over the past 10-15 years. Everything that has occurred over the recent decade has worked to our benefit. Obviously I have an office, but I can be productive on the road. I don't feel like I must be physically chained to my desk at the office. I can be anywhere and get my work done. It allows for family time. We can go on vacation. We can do things. It's very liberating.”
According to Alan, advances in technology and greater access to information have also helped to level the playing field, allowing his firm to compete in ways that wouldn’t have been possible just a decade ago: “Today, you have the cost of information going out for next to nothing. Years ago you needed the library and people to sift through all of the information in it. We’ve benefited enormously from commoditizing the information.”
He explains that more affordable access to information and a workflow improved by advances in technology give him the freedom to focus on cases that matter to him, including “interesting, constitutional cases. I find it difficult to work on boring cases. Life is too short to do boring work.”
But, if you ask Alan, he’ll tell you that at the end of the day, it’s not about him—it’s about doing what’s right and making a difference: “If people want to remember me as somebody who tried to expand individual freedoms, that’s great, but I don't need any monuments or statues. I'm just a lawyer. I hope people have better things to do than remember me.”