Lawyers, Law and Social Change


This article will investigate relations between lawyers, law, and social change. The question is of interest to lawyers who are concerned with whether or not their profession has any relation to the actual implementation of justice. More importantly, though, the question is of critical interest to a broader audience of social activists. Its answer will inform fundamental approaches to strategies and tactics in the field of social change. If one desires social justice, should one bother with law and lawyers at all, and if so, to what extent and in what fashion?

In investigating these matters, I begin by setting out my own position on the issue. This includes an explication of what is desirable social change, how to achieve it, and what role law and lawyers might play in the process. An examination of the factors sustaining this position follows. This includes experiences in professional practice, theoretical vision, and conceptions of history. Having substantiated the position, I will turn to more specific elaborations of where lawyers and law fit into my vision. Practical activities which lawyers ought and ought not pursue will be noted. I then compare my position to those espoused by three alternative positions on the left side of the spectrum: the public interest/legal reform advocates; the “a-legal” leftists; and the group I identify as “fusionist” (many of whom explicitly identify themselves with the Critical Legal Studies movement). These comparisons should not only clarify my position, but also advance the debate in this area. After that I turn to a discussion of the implications that my position holds for a notion of law. I conclude by illustrating how practice can mesh with theory.

Suggested Reading