Most lawyers don’t risk their houses for their clients. EFF, for instance, has a list of collaborating attorneys that the organization’s lawyers will feed cases to. Some of those lawyers will work pro bono. Some take a fee. “Once they’ve worked with us before, they want to work for us again,” says EFF’s Fakhoury. “I think there are a lot of people interested in the work we do.”

In other words, there are plenty of people who recognize the rewards of this work and could take it on. But there are only a few who are true believers.

Both Ekeland and Leiderman say they do this work because they believe in it and find it fascinating. While the work is getting them attention in certain communities, it doesn’t necessarily boost their regular practice. “A lot of the regular clients don’t necessarily know I do this type of stuff,” says Leiderman. “They know me as a hard-charging advocate here.” (One exception: his medical marijuana clients, who “love the crossover,” Leiderman says. “There’s a congruence between those two sets of clients.”)

“I’ve gotten myself targeted by the FBI and NSA and all of that,” says Leiderman. “For what? For no money, for no financial reward. That’s why people think I’m nuts. That’s what’s exciting about all of this to me…It does make the government uncomfortable, as well it should.”

Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.

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Sarah Laskow is a writer and editor in New York City. Her work has appeared in print and online in Grist, Good, The American Prospect, Salon, The New Republic, and other publications.