The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique

By David Kairys | Go to book overview

ROBERT W. GORDON


28
SOME CRITICAL THEORIES OF LAW AND THEIR CRITICS

MANY lawyers allied with progressive causes have reached such a state of stalemate or exhaustion that they may find it hard to remember that the last thirty years has been an amazingly creative period in the history of socially activist law. New social movements--civil rights, women's rights, welfare rights, children's rights, gay and lesbian rights, international human rights, immigrants' and farm workers' rights, environmentalism and community development--have demanded the invention of a whole new range of lawyering skills and strategies and styles of interaction with clients and client communities; and given rise to striking innovations in legal institutions: law-reform-oriented legal-services offices and "public interest" practices, new roles and remedies such as the public interest intervention in administrative proceedings, the public interest class action, the structural injunction, and the teaching of self-help "lay lawyering."

In the history of progressive legal theory as well, this has been an extraordinary period, probably the most creative since the Legal Realist movements of the 1920s and 1930s. The lawyers who have participated in the development of "critical" legal theories came from many different starting points--some of us law teachers with humanist intellectual concerns and left-liberal (civil rights and anti-Vietnam war) political involvements in the 1960s and 1970s; others radical activists who identified with neo-Marxist versions of socialism or feminism or both; still others primarily practitioners, some of them associated with the National Lawyers Guild, and who work in collective law practices, legal services offices, law school clinics, or a variety of other progressive jobs. Mostly white and male at the start, the company of critical legal theorists has greatly diversified over time in its racial, ethnic, and gender composition;

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