Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

By Jean Stefancic; Richard Delgado | Go to book overview

Epilogue
On the Relation Between Hope and Struggle: A Concluding Message for the Young Lawyer

Earlier, we mentioned that this book is written for reformers. Yet, over the last nine chapters we have been showing how difficult reform is, how failures of imagination, perception, and will cause most movements to founder, to achieve less than what their advocates hoped. Law reform is no different, indeed confronts special obstacles of its own.

Why struggle, then, the reader may ask, why push on if dashed hopes and unfulfilled promises are the reformer's more usual fate? We believe one must go on, but the reasons for doing so require seeing the relationship of hope, perseverance, and realism in a slightly different light from the one in which we usually see them.

To see this, consider the career path of many young lawyers. We have spent much of our lives teaching and working with law students. It is important to us that they not see this book as a counsel of despair, for that is not how it is intended. Many of our students come to law school imbued with the desire to work for the public good. They are idealistic and reform-minded. They want to make bureaucracy more responsive, schools more integrated, prisons more humane. They want to represent consumers injured by shoddy products, want to defend the poor and homeless. They want to champion unpopular causes, persons accused of crime.

The young idealist soon learns that the way is rocky, however. Society despises criminals. Their friends ask how they can represent such people. They encounter rude, racist judges, and clients who lie to them. Cases that should win, lose. Many leave public interest practice after a few years, disillusioned and burned out.

It turns out, then, that hope, realism, and despair are more delicately balanced than we sometimes acknowledge. Hope is, of course, necessary for any long and difficult struggle. But equally important is an under-

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