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Movement Lawyering

This Article explores an important development in American legal theory and practice over the past decade: the rise of “movement lawyering” as an alternative model of public interest advocacy focused on building the power of nonelite constituencies through integrated legal and political strategies. Its central goal is to explain why movement lawyering has gained prominence, define its essential features, and explore what it reveals about the current state of efforts to work out an empirically grounded and normatively appealing vision of the lawyer’s role in social change. Toward that end, this Article shows how movement lawyering has long been an important part of progressive legal practice—complicating the standard historical account—while also illuminating the contemporary political and professional shifts that have powered the recent social movement turn. Synthesizing insights from social movement theory and practice, the Article then defines and analyzes the core features of the movement lawyering model—representing “mobilized clients” and deploying “integrated advocacy”—and explores how these features respond to long-standing critiques of public interest advocacy by presenting movement lawyers at their most accountable and effective: taking instructions from activist organizations in client-centered fashion and using law in politically sophisticated ways designed to maximize the potential for sustained social reform. In doing so, the new movement lawyering literature usefully refocuses attention on fundamental questions about the lawyer’s role in social change and thereby offers a crucial opportunity to jumpstart a contemporary dialogue—less freighted with the critical canon of the past and more rooted in empirical inquiry—about the conditions in which lawyering is most likely to produce accountable and effective democratic transformation.

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