Lawyers and Social Movements: Reimagining Theory and Practice

February 10, 2017
UCLA School of Law

Organized by UCLA Law Review and Professor Scott Cummings and Professor Douglas NeJaime.

This symposium will explore the role of law and lawyers in contemporary social movements in the United States and beyond. This focus is motivated by dramatic changes in practice and theory that have brought renewed attention to how lawyers can, and should, shape the goals and strategies of movements attempting to reform law and change culture. The symposium will build upon UCLAW’s tradition of leadership in this field to convene leading thinkers and practitioners toward the goal of developing new empirical insights and building new theoretical frameworks to guide lawyering for social movements that respond to current political challenges and professional opportunities.

Over the past decade, scholars and practitioners have turned increasing attention to the role of law in social movements. Inspiration has been drawn from diverse quarters: the legal mobilization against repressive antiterrorism policies launched after 9/11, efforts by the labor and immigrant rights movements at the local level to challenge economic exploitation and raise standards in the low-wage economy, the dramatic march to marriage equality by LGBT rights lawyers, and the galvanization of grassroots activism in response to police violence against communities of color. Against this backdrop, scholars have produced a rich new literature that places social movements at the center of legal and political transformation—pushing aside a focus on courts and lawyers that has long dominated scholarly analysis. This literature has made essential contributions to understanding how social movement mobilization can change law and society, while also showing how lawyers may support that change through an approach to representation in which they collaborate with social movements but do not control them.

This renewed attention to social movements comes at a time in which law and politics are at a crossroads. Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, fifty years after the March on Selma and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and toward the end of a presidency many had viewed as the best hope for civil rights revival, scholars have begun to reexamine America’s civil rights legacy. Particularly as many social movement groups continue to face a divided government and an unsympathetic Supreme Court, this reexamination has spotlighted the question of how social movements should engage with law and lawyers in ways that promote social transformation, while avoiding mistakes of the past.

The central goal of this symposium is to explore the development of social movements as key actors in legal theory and practice, and to examine what the social movement turn reveals about the current state of efforts by progressive scholars to work out an empirically grounded and normatively appealing vision of the lawyer’s role in social change. Toward this end, we propose a symposium that would bring together the country’s leading law and social movement scholars to engage in a critical discussion—the first of its type within the legal academy—over what role law and lawyers should play in advancing social movements of the 21st century. UCLA, with its rich tradition of scholarship on lawyers and social change, is the ideal school to host this discussion, particularly given our connections to critical centers of social movement legal support, including the Williams Institute, the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, and the Critical Race Studies Program.

More information to follow.

Scott Cummings

Scott Cummings is Robert Henigson Professor of Legal Ethics and Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, where he teaches and writes about the legal profession, public interest law, and community economic development.  He is the faculty director of a new program, Legal Ethics and the Profession (LEAP), which promotes research and programming on the challenges facing the contemporary legal profession. He is also a long-time member of the UCLA David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, a specialization training students to become public interest lawyers. Professor Cummings is co-author of the first public interest law textbook, Public Interest Lawyering: A Contemporary Perspective (with Alan Chen) (Wolters Kluwer, 2012), and co-editor of a leading legal profession casebook, Legal Ethics (with Deborah Rhode, David Luban, and Nora Engstrom) (7th ed. Foundation Press, 2016).

Professor Cummings began his legal career in Los Angeles building economic opportunity in low-income communities.  In 1998, after clerking in Chicago, he was awarded a Skadden Fellowship to work in the Community Development Project at Public Counsel in Los Angeles, where he provided transactional legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and small businesses engaged in community revitalization efforts.

After clerking for Judge A. Wallace Tashima on the Ninth Circuit, Professor Cummings joined the faculty at UCLA in 2002 to pursue research focused on law and social change, and access to justice.  His law and social change scholarship has explored the opportunities for and challenges to mobilizing law in support of different movements, with major works including “Community Economic Development as Progressive Politics: Toward a Grassroots Movement for Economic Justice,” 54 Stanford Law Review 399 (2001); “Public Interest Litigation: Insights from Theory and Practice” (with Deborah Rhode), 36 Fordham Urban Law Journal 603 (2009); and “Lawyering for Marriage Equality” (with Douglas NeJaime), 57 UCLA Law Review 1235 (2010).  On the access to justice side, his research has focused on the organization and practice of public interest law and pro bono, and the role of public interest lawyers in the contemporary legal profession.  Key works in this area include: “The Politics of Pro Bono,” 52 UCLA Law Review 1 (2004); “The Internationalization of Public Interest Law,” 57 Duke Law Journal 891 (2008); and “Privatizing Public Interest Law, 25 Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 1 (2012). He also edited The Paradox of Professionalism: Lawyers and the Possibility of Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Building upon this research, Professor Cummings is currently co-Principal Investigator of a National Science Foundation funded study (with Richard Abel and Catherine Albiston), which examines the factors causing law students to enter and persevere in public interest careers.  He is also writing a book on the role of lawyers in the labor movement’s challenge to low-wage work in Los Angeles, under contract with Oxford University Press.

Douglas NeJaime

Douglas NeJaime is Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law and Faculty Director of the Williams Institute.  He teaches in the areas of family law, law and sexuality, constitutional law, and legal ethics.  He was previously Professor of Law at UC Irvine School of Law, Associate Professor of Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, and the Sears Law Teaching Fellow at the Williams Institute.

NeJaime is a two-time recipient of the Dukeminier Award, which recognizes the best sexual orientation legal scholarship published in the previous year.  His recent scholarship includes Marriage Equality and the New Parenthood, published in the Harvard Law Review in 2016, and Conscience Wars: Complicity-Based Conscience Claims in Religion and Politics, co-authored with Reva Siegel and published in the Yale Law Journal in 2015. NeJaime is also co-author, with William Rubenstein, Carlos Ball, and Jane Schacter, of Cases and Materials on Sexual Orientation and the Law.  He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Brown University.

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