Cause Lawyers and Social Movements

Cause Lawyers and Social Movements

Cause Lawyers and Social Movements

Cause Lawyers and Social Movements


Cause Lawyers and Social Movements seeks to reorient scholarship on cause lawyers, inviting scholars to think about cause lawyering from the perspective of those political activists with whom cause lawyers work and whom they seek to serve. It demonstrates that while all cause lawyering cuts against the grain of conventional understandings of legal practice and professionalism, social movement lawyering poses distinctively thorny problems.

The editors and authors of this volume explore the following questions: What do cause lawyers do for, and to, social movements? How, when, and why do social movements turn to and use lawyers and legal strategies? Does their use of lawyers and legal strategies advance or constrain the achievement of their goals? And, how do movements shape the lawyers who serve them and how do lawyers shape the movements?


What Cause Lawyers Do For, and To,
Social Movements
An Introduction

Austin Sarat and Stuart Scheingold

The last half of the twentieth century in the United States was, in part, a story of law's role in movements for social change—from the struggle for AfricanAmerican civil rights to efforts to secure equal rights for women, from the struggle to expand the reach of human rights to efforts to secure gay rights (Sarat, Garth, and Kagan 2002). in this story cause lawyers played an important, though controversial, part (Lobel 2003). They pressed the claims of oppressed people and disadvantaged groups and reminded Americans of our shared aspirations and ideals. They used legal institutions to energize a political process that alltoo-frequently failed to live up to those aspirations and ideals (see Kinoy 1983; Hilbink 2003).

In the most idealized version of this period of American history, litigation mobilized movements, informed the public about particular injustices, and reframed political struggles (for a discussion of this point see Epp 1998). This version is replete with the vindication of lawyers who fought skillfully on behalf of what, at the time, seemed to be the most hopeless of causes (Lobel 2003). It is also a reminder to lawyers of the importance of resisting the temptation to choose strategies that have the highest likelihood of prevailing in court in favor of those that push the envelope of conventional understandings and, in so doing, speak both to a broader political context and to history itself.

In our previous work we have attended to the ways lawyers construct causes and causes supply lawyers with something to believe in (Scheingold and Sarat 2005) as well as to ways commitment to a cause challenges conventional ideas of lawyer professionalism (Sarat and Scheingold 1998). in Cause Lawyers and Social Movements we shift the focus in two ways. First, we move from an analysis of causes to a concern with social movements. Second, we turn our attention . . .

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