Law and the Politics of Meaning

By Schorr, Nanette | Tikkun, July/August 1996 | Go to article overview

Law and the Politics of Meaning


Schorr, Nanette, Tikkun


I'm an attorney working in a legal services office in the South Bronx. My primary practice area is representing parents whose children are involved with the foster-care system.

The kinds of questions raised before this forum have been in the minds of both our most eminent jurists and those for whom exposure to the law was only a passing stage in the development of a humanistic philosophy.

As Mohandas Gandhi stated in his autobiography:

I had learnt the true practice of law. I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men's hearts. I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder. This lesson was so indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the twenty years of my practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about private compromise of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby--not even money; certainly not my soul.

So many people are attempting to address the kinds of questions that are being addressed in this forum today--in preparation for this talk I reviewed articles and books that spoke in many different paradigms--the critical legal studies movement, feminist jurisprudence, the legal storytelling and empathy in the law movements, the law and context and law and policy movements, movements that I would suspect many practicing lawyers are unfamiliar with.

Yet, there is something about having this conversation at this conference, in the context of an effort to engage society on multiple levels around the concept of a politics of meaning, an effort that I have partaken in, that makes having this discussion here, and me being a spokesperson for that discussion as part of that larger effort, something qualitatively different; for the most common objection I hear to legal reform proposals is that it would require a differently functioning national community for those reforms to be effective, and my response can now be: We're envisioning a world where change is occurring on multiple levels in tandem, so that we need not speak of legal reform in isolation from other change, though we will be implementing these changes in a world in flux that has not yet fully absorbed a politics of meaning, and in that sense the reforms are risky ones.

The question at this panel today is how do we reform legal institutions in ways that address the concerns of those who feel disillusioned with the legal system, with lawyers as representatives of that system, or with their own professional lives if they are attorneys. This is a discussion not just about institutional reform, but about the effect of legal practice on the souls of practitioners.

I am part of the group that defines ourselves as public-interest lawyers, since I work in a law office that represents indigent people and is funded by the government. We public-interest lawyers tend to separate ourselves from the rest of legal practitioners because of what we define as our social consciousness, and because of the ends we are trying to achieve. Yet, not all public-interest legal work is designed at ending oppressive or discriminatory practices, or at protecting against arbitrary or neglectful governmental behavior, and even if much of it is, sometimes public interest lawyers are simply representing private individuals with very private goals who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Yet, we practice in the same courts, and often in the same ways, that other lawyers practice; and our goal, as theirs, is to obtain our clients' ends at all costs. So, while I honor the work and commitment of public-interest lawyers in our struggle against poverty, injustice, and discrimination, I propose that we public-interest lawyers reintegrate ourselves into the rubric of the legal profession and talk about repairing our own practice in the same ways that lawyers in other parts of the profession need to repair theirs.

Legal culture reinforces thinking that equates justice for one's own client with justice per se, with "justice" being defined as the course which benefits one's own client. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Law and the Politics of Meaning
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.