Cause Lawyers and Social Movements

By Schleef, Debra | Law & Society Review, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Cause Lawyers and Social Movements


Schleef, Debra, Law & Society Review


Cause Lawyers and Social Movements. By Austin Sarat and Stuart A. Scheingold. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. Pp. x+341. $29.95 paper.

This collection is the fourth edited volume on cause lawyering that Sarat and Scheingold have co-produced. Given that these authors have virtually cornered the market on this topic, the challenge of this review is to consider whether this volume is distinctive enough to recommend it to both those who are and those who are not familiar with this literature.

The authors have succeeded in providing a distinctive book that will appeal to a broad audience. First, the authors seek to "move from an analysis of causes to a concern with social movements" (p. 1; emphasis added). This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it allows each author to address the larger contextual and structural constraints imposed on activist lawyers. For example, one of the most valuable essays is the second one in the volume, an account by McCann and Dudas that provides an historical and theoretical background on social movements for the pieces in the volume. Peppered with fascinating and diverse examples, it could serve as an introduction to the topic in a number of venues.

Second, the authors wish to "turn attention from the way cause lawyering articulates with the project of the organized legal profession to the explicitly political work of cause lawyers" (p. 2) in order to show what lawyers do to and for social movements. The editors' introduction indicates that the book examines under what circumstances cause lawyers in social movements move from an elitist, professional ideology privileging litigation, to a political, activist, or grassroots one that challenges traditional definitions of professionalism. A final, though less fleshed-out task, is to discuss how the methods of left and right cause lawyers converge in tactics, if not in content. Section 1 examines the life cycles of social movements and of the roles of the lawyers who inhabit them. In Section 2, the chapters focus on the professional identities of cause lawyers. Section 3 contains three scenarios in which lawyers move beyond traditional litigation to embrace other roles in social movements (e.g., writing legislation, community mobilization, and even participating in movements as nonlawyers).

The editors include a wide range of compelling empirical case studies on social movements from both sides of the political spectrum-including gay and lesbian rights, consumer rights, the prolife movement, and environmental justice. Though the material focuses on the energies of leftist movements, scholars of conservatives (and perhaps even conservative scholars) will find something to appreciate in objective reports by den Dulk and in the pieces by McCann and Dudas, and by Sarat and Scheingold themselves.

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