This course explores the role of the law and of lawyers in social justice movements. We are conditioned to think of the law as a rational and apolitical framework and public interest lawyers as crusading heroes for justice. But a less lawyer-centric examination suggests a more complicated dynamic. Legal strategies, in isolation, can also undermine movement building, disempower client groups, reinforce harmful hierarchies, and impede structural transformation. We will engage in critical analysis of the relationship between law and social justice and investigate an evolving “movement lawyering” model that promotes greater lawyer accountability to community-led movement organizations, emphasizes power-building strategies, and looks to movement activism as the basis for legal and political transformation.

Betty Hung describes three essential threads to the practice of movement lawyering: (1) to be grounded in a place of humility that recognizes lawyering as but one of multiple strategies necessary to advance a social movement; (2) to act from a place of love that affirms the intersectional humanity of the whole person and entire communities in order to build movements together; and (3) to practice courage and be willing to relinquish our privileges in order to act and stand up for justice. To understand what this looks like in practice, we will look at movement lawyering case studies, hear directly from movement lawyers, and work directly with public interest law organizations engaged in movement lawyering practice in Los Angeles.

In the weekly seminar, we will: (1) consider how lawyers and legal strategies have historically contributed to and impeded movements for social justice in the past; (2) explore contemporary case studies of “community lawyering” or "movement lawyering" practices in Los Angeles; and (3) learn core skills and tactics to align legal strategies with community power-building goals. Through a guest speaker series, we will have the opportunity to learn directly from movement lawyers working in Los Angeles about their work and their path to this mode of legal advocacy. The seminar is intended to be a small, participatory, and collaborative co-learning space. Active student participation is critical to its success, and students will be expected to help lead discussions that integrate the readings, guest speakers, and internship experiences.

In the companion internship, students will work directly with lawyers and community groups supporting social justice movements and campaigns in L.A. County. Students will work in teams of two or three with an assigned host organization, with each student spending 12 hours per week working on projects under the direction of a supervisor at the host organization. Students will be expected to establish a mutually agreeable work schedule with their host organization prior to, or during the first week of the course.

Through this integrated examination of the theory and practice of movement lawyering, we will build skills and identify strategies to enhance collaboration and strengthen social justice movements in L.A. and beyond.