Our Story

Home 5 About Us 5 Our Story

Wisconsin is known as a swing state with a proud history of progressive traditions. From our state motto of “Forward” to our legacy as the birthplace of public sector unions and the first state to pass the 19th Amendment, we have a vibrant progressive tradition. In Wisconsin, across race, class and geography we strive to take care of our communities and advance a democracy that includes all of our voices. 

For the past two decades, Wisconsin has been ground zero for testing rightwing ideas that violate our democractic values. This well-funded rightwing legal infrastructure has specifically focused on restricting access to the polls, entrenching minority-rule through partisan gerrymandering and consolidating legislative authority and undoing the framework of Wisconsin’s democracy. Law Forward stands in direct opposition to this coordinated campaign, and is on the frontlines—in the courts and in public spaces—to repel these anti-democratic attacks.

Since opening our doors in 2020, Law Forward has engaged in crucial democracy fights for ballot access, led the fight for fair districts, protected separation of powers, advocated for the judiciary’s constitutional role, and convened broad coalitions—including key Wisconsin nonprofits, government officials, and national allies to resist election subversion and ensure fair, free elections. 

Doug Poland and Jeff Manzel standing in front of the Wisconsin Capitol building, both wearing suits with blue shirts.

Our co-founders, Jeff Mandell and Doug Poland, had the idea of a progressive organization that would defend Wisconsin from rightwing attacks and grow our state’s proud, progressive traditions. Their vision to build an organization that stands up to the minority-rule being propped up by legislative leadership and fight back against a systematic effort to undercut democratic norms and disenfranchise voters is a reality today. At its core, Law Forward exists to protect democracy. The mission started with redistricting litigation and a public education campaign, an effort led by Law Forward’s original staff attorney, Mel Barnes, who now serves as Governor Tony Evers’ chief legal counsel. We strove to put a stop to the current gerrymander, one of the most consequential issues affecting democracy in Wisconsin. At the time Law Forward launched we could not have imagined all the work that would prove necessary just to preserve voting rights and fair election administration. Today, Law Forward works on multiple fronts to fight for a state where Wisconsinites can participate in free, fair elections where their votes matter.

Read Jeff Mandell's Bio
Jeff (he/him) has always believed in viewing government as the things we choose to do together, as a society. This belief has inspired his years of extensive litigation work advancing democracy and protecting voting rights. In starting Law Forward, Jeff sought to build an organization that would strive to make government work for everyone, through broad access and participation. He and his family have happily been Wisconsinites for more than 7 years, and they look forward to many more.
Read Doug Poland's Bio

For over a decade, Doug (he/him) has litigated on behalf of individuals and nonprofit organizations seeking to uphold Wisconsin’s constitutional guarantees that all our citizens’ voices will be heard at the ballot box and their interests represented in our state’s elected offices. Raised in Milwaukee and now having settled with his family in Madison since 2005, Doug has experienced and loved much of Wisconsin, from small county courthouses to boat rides on the lakes Up North to games at Lambeau Field.

Ending Gerrymandering

Fighting for Accountability

Ensuring Functioning Democracy

Preserving the Constitution

Combating Legislative Overreach

Protecting The Freedom to Vote

Law Forward leads where necessary and assists where appropriate, always working to restore Wisconsin to a forward trajectory.