Non-Lawyers and Law Reform

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Long title: 
Lawyers, Non-Lawyers and Legal Reform
Carle, Susan D.
Author(s)' contact information: 
American University, USA
Conference title: 
International Legal Ethics Conference VI
Conference location: 
City University London

This paper further develops themes presented in my new book Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915 (Oxford University Press, 2013). The book explores the intersections between civil rights organizing, test case litigation and other legal and law-related strategies to challenge racially discriminatory laws, and non-elite lawyers’ conceptions of their professional identity and mission, all in the specific context of United States legal history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The proposed paper has less to do with the particular U.S. historical context and more to do with sociological and comparative questions about how gender, social status as a racially subordinated outsider, and class status may affect legal profession identity and strategic choices about social change activism and legal reform. Using my prior research as a case study, I argue that the variables of gender, race, and class may affect access to levers of power and thus shape social change techniques. Indeed, strategies may not even appear to be directed at “law reform,” but may instead circumvent public institutions altogether to focus institution-building in the private realm. These projects may be related to long-term goals of legal reform even though they are carried out by non-lawyers. Scrutinizing lines drawn between legal and “non-legal” reform campaigns, and between lawyer and non-lawyer activists, can reveal new insights into relationships between law, lawyers, and legal reform.

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