Alan Sears KSG was blessed to build Alliance Defending Freedom from a dream, a mere concept, into the largest religious civil liberties law firm in the world with attorneys advocating—and winning—for religious liberty at the United Nations and on five continents. With start-up cash of less than $4,700 ADF experienced 1.2 million percent growth during Alan’s tenure as CEO and experienced an 80%-win rate in courts across the globe. In one five-year period ADF was the most successful law firm in America before the United States Supreme Court, has now won 14 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court over the last 11 years, and has 14 victories at the European Court of Human Rights.
What does it take to launch and build a winning international institution that lasts?
An institution that makes such a difference that over a dozen national apostolates and ministries have bestowed upon its founder their top honors—and the Pope made him a papal Knight, the highest honor granted to laity?1
It takes a lot—but not necessarily what you think.
From a start-up budget less than $4,700, ADF experienced 1.2 million percent growth during Alan’s tenure as President, CEO, and General Counsel. It maintained an 80%-win rate in courts across the globe. In one five-year period, ADF was the most successful law firm in America before the United States Supreme Court.2 ADF has won 14 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court over the last 11 years, and has won 14 victories at the European Court of Human Rights.
But, and perhaps most importantly, ADF has continued to thrive since Alan stepped down as president in 2017.
In an era when McKinsey & Company says “nearly half of leadership transitions fail”3 and many non-profits flounder when their founder steps down,4 Alan’s transition strategy to “make his successors successful” allowed ADF to continue to grow rapidly. In 2022, ADF annual revenue topped $100 million and its success in advocacy continues to increase across the globe.
Now, your organization can learn from Alan about how this was accomplished; get an updated vision on where we stand in the battle for religious liberty; hear how God saved Alan in his battle with Stage Four Cancer; and so much more—all in accord with his life verse of John 15:5, where our Lord proclaims that “without Him we can do nothing.”
Alan Sears, whose life theme verse is John 15:5, is known for his decades of alliance-building, bringing together people and organizations of widely varying views, denominations, and beliefs across the globe to find and focus on areas of common agreement. Alan champions alliance-building as the best way to “get things done” for religious freedom, life, marriage and family, and the Kingdom of God.
In his “retirement” Alan serves as Executive Director of Kingdom Alliance Builders, where he focuses on mentoring, equipping, and empowering primarily first-time CEO/faith ministry leaders to succeed and expand their work in the communities they serve. He provides private, one-on-one expertise to select charitable foundations/family trusts/families in evaluating returns on their charitable investment and other matters, and on the Board of several national non-profit ministry/apostolates.
Alan is the Founder and former President, CEO, and General Counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, ADF International, and ADF Foundation.
Alliance Defending Freedom is the world’s largest law firm dedicated to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and marriage and family.
Alan launched ADF as the sole team member in 1994 with less than $5,000 start-up cash. Over the next 29 years, in his various roles Alan provided the leadership to conceive, grow, and develop the ministry to provide strategy, training, funding, and to further and improve advocacy across the globe.
Over 2,000 lawyers from 47 countries have received training through the one-of-a-kind Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Academy. These attorneys have reported more than $230 million in pro-bono/dedicated time. More than $50 million in grant funding has been provided by ADF to enable the efforts of allied lawyers and entities—many of whom the world would call “competitors,” but who, united by Alan’s God-given dream of alliance, are now working together to protect freedom around the globe. Allied lawyers now top 2,400 worldwide. In addition, during Alan’s tenure he helped numerous other apostolates and their leadership to launch, grow, and become increasingly more effective.
His visionary efforts have resulted in the graduation of more than 2,600 outstanding law students—representing 227 schools and 21 countries—from the world-class Blackstone Legal Fellowship leadership-training program5. Blackstone Fellows now serve as judges, in judicial clerkships, with members of Congress, attorneys general and government agencies, law firms, advocacy organizations across the globe, and in academia. The Arete Academy of excellence and moral virtue, launched under Alan’s tenure, has graduated nearly 1,200 students, 402 from abroad.
At ADF, Alan oversaw the development of many innovative projects, including:
The Center for Academic Freedom, which has now had over 435 victories against public colleges and universities attacks on free speech and religious freedom;
The Pulpit Freedom Sunday initiative to “free the nation’s pulpits” and end the chilling effect of the Johnson Amendment;
The Christmas Project, “Merry Christmas, It’s OK to say it!” protecting the right to displays in the public square;
The Corporate Resource Council to assist corporate leaders;
Various ADF Summits to gather allies in a forum for education, strategic planning, and action;
The Public Prayer Effort protecting public officials who desire to pray to open meetings.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys launched what has become a massive moot court and appellate amicus briefing effort that has transformed the legal landscape regarding matters of broad public interest. These attorneys have litigated in courts across the United States and participated in various roles in more than 65 victories at the United States Supreme Court, including 14 victories as lead counsel for religious freedom and freedom of conscience since 2011.
ADF International, launched under Alan’s leadership, engages in advocacy from offices at the United Nations in Geneva and New York, the Organization for American States in Washington, in Brussels; London, Mexico City, Strasbourg, Vienna, and an affiliate in Delhi. Alan oversaw the creation of the Areté Academy, which has served/trained hundreds of future leaders in law, government, or public policy from Asia, Europe, and Latin America. ADFI has litigated 14 hard-won victories for clients at the European Court of Human Rights.
Before founding ADF, Alan served in numerous positions during the Reagan and Bush Administrations at the United States Departments of Justice and Interior, including as a federal prosecutor and Chief of the Criminal Section USAO WDKY, and as Executive Director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography—whose recommendations to Congress were adopted by the U.S. Senate 96-0 and signed into law by President Reagan. He has testified/spoken before Committees of the United States Senate, Congress, many state legislatures, the British Parliament, and to legal audiences in many nations.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, he earned his Juris Doctor from the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, and continued his education with professional instruction at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, Pepperdine University, and the Catholic University of America.
Alan has assisted public officials in protecting their citizens from blatant attacks on their liberty and human rights across Europe and in Australia, the Caribbean, and Africa. He has spoken in many nations and at the United Nations on several occasions on issues of upholding national sovereignty, religious liberty, and the sanctity of life.
Alan has devoted countless hours of service to numerous non-profit and faith-based organizations and their leadership serving on many of their boards including, as Chairman of the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund; the Diocese of Phoenix School Board; Legatus; Napa Legal; and Catholic Education Arizona, which during Alan’s tenure as Chairman crossed the $100 million mark in contributions for Catholic School Tuition. Alan also served two terms as president of The Country Club at DC Ranch in Scottsdale, which during his tenure experienced strong growth, dramatically updated the physical facilities, and substantially increased membership value.
He has received many honors and awards including from the U.S. Department of Justice and the ADF Edwin Meese III Originalism and Religious Liberty Award. He also received the Religious Freedom Institute’s Defender of Religious Freedom Award; the Colson Center’s William Wilberforce Award; the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award; the Legatus International Courage in the Marketplace Award; the National Lawyers Association’s Edmund Burke Award; the Tepayac Leadership Initiative’s St. Juan Diego Leadership for the World Award; the National Religious Broadcasters Faith & Freedom Award; the Napa Institute Religious Liberty Award; and the Christian Legal Society’s Servant Leadership Award. Politico Magazine declared Alan Sears #31 of 50 in its national guide to the thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016, and earlier in his career Newsmax listed Alan in the top 100 Christian leaders in America, and the American Bar Association’s Barrister magazine declared Alan one of the most outstanding young lawyers in the nation.
In 2017, Alan and his wife, Paula, were invested in the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great as Knight and Dame, the highest award given by the Holy See to laypersons.
Alan’s media appearances include television interviews and features on CNN, CBS News, ABC 20/20, EWTN, Fox News, C-SPAN, The Today Show, Nightline, The O’Reilly Factor, Oprah, Lou Dobbs Tonight, Vice TV, and many others. He has been a guest on hundreds of radio programs, including National Public Radio, The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Dennis Prager Show, The Laura Ingraham Show, and more than 30 appearances on Focus on the Family. He has been profiled extensively by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, The Washington Times, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Arizona Republic, and more.
He has co-authored/authored many articles and books, including The ACLU vs. America, and his most recent, The Soul of an American President: The Untold Story of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Faith, co-authored with Craig Osten, Baker Books. The Eisenhower biography arose from Alan’s in-depth studies of World War II in Europe, the parallels to today, and from the many tours he has led for military officers, veterans, and laity across the lonely beaches and windswept cliffs of Normandy.
1. Religious Liberty Update — this is an overview of some of the current nation shaping litigation with 3-4 great client stories interwoven - good for Catholic or conservative audiences
2. Building Successful Institutions that Last: from $4700 to $100 Million a year — that is the ADF story with now the DNA lasting though two CEO transitions with never a dip in revenue or vital signs (all by God’s grace) - good for Catholic or broader audiences
3. Some Forgotten American Catholic History — this is a fun one with little known stories from either the colonial/founding era and the outsized role of a handful of Catholics; OR the New York Catholic story — this one is great for schools/colleges seeking to impact culture/future - this is really focused for Catholics and their allies
4. The Virtue of Perseverance: the life and faith of our 34th President – I have given this speech more than 20 times to audiences of all ages, many faiths, accompanied by a PowerPoint of visual illustrations – it has never failed to produce a standing ovation
5. Q & A sessions on 1, 2 & 4 above have also worked well