Posted by: Ray Brescia | November 7, 2018

Creative Lawyering for Social Change

 

After the mid-terms, the work of social change advocacy groups, and their lawyers, will only continue, and such work will have to get creative.   In a forthcoming piece in the Georgia State University Law Review, I explore some successful campaigns for legal social change and the lawyers who were involved in them to try to understand if there are lessons to be learned from those successes. The abstract is below.  Download the article here.

Lawyers have long played an integral part of efforts to bring about social change. With an increasing desire to see change in the world, regardless of one’s political perspective, there is a growing interest in understanding the role that lawyers can play in bringing about such change. This type of lawyering is complex, however, and faces far more challenges than those the traditional lawyer faces in his or her work. While all lawyers solve problems on behalf of their clients, the role of the social change lawyer is more complex because the problems she seeks to address are more complex, mostly because she is not trying to operate within the existing legal system on behalf of her client, but, rather, trying to change it. Indeed, the social change lawyer often faces complex problems that require complex and creative solutions. This Article attempts to explore the nature of the creativity required of the social change lawyer by an assessment of three campaigns for social change in which lawyers played prominent roles: the effort to abolish slavery, the campaign to end Jim Crow segregation, and the movement for marriage equality. This review unearths several common components of these campaigns, which include that they typically sought incremental change, they utilized interpretative tools that helped reframe the issues affecting their clients, they brought in interdisciplinary perspectives, they sought to build coalitions based on areas where the interests of different communities might converge, and they were conscious of trends and forces occurring outside the law that were likely to affect the legal campaigns. It is through an assessment of these successful efforts, and an identification of the common characteristics of such creative problem solving for social change, that, I hope, will serve as inspiration for those working for positive social change today and in the future.


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