Legal Profession: Law and Social Movements

Legal Profession: Law and Social Movements

Professor Lani Guinier
Spring 2013 course
M, T 1:00pm - 3:00pm in WCC Room 3019
4 classroom credits

Historical and sociological studies of civil rights movements (often starting with the movement for black civil rights, with parallel developments among Latinos, American Indians and Asian Americans), the feminist movement, the labor movement, the human rights movement, the right-to-life movement, the gay rights movement and the conservative movement for economic freedom and property rights identify the central importance of compelling narratives that come to frame a public deliberative process, which ultimately influences the making and interpretation of law. In this view, one key role of social movements is to keep a story in the public eye and to confront, incorporate and challenge the received understanding with counter-stories. When social movements are successful, a new story emerges. Part of this story is written in the law. Lawmaking becomes a way to institutionalize changes in background understanding and embrace particular public meanings and norms. At the same time, lawyers often play leadership roles in forging the path that social movements take. We shall assess this interactive narrative frame as a point of departure for investigating specific advocacy strategies employed by lawyers. Among the advocacy strategies we shall consider are rule shifting and culture shifting; critical lawyering, movement lawyering and law and organizing; demosprudence, jurisprudence and legisprudence; impact litigation and cause lawyering. One of our goals is to examine the challenges and dilemmas lawyers face in helping social movements successfully organize around a counter-story without becoming the movement's primary storytellers. Another goal is to understand the recursive relationship between social movements, litigation, legislation, and administrative agency policy making and enforcement.

We shall also explore the extent to which social movements are not simply about negotiation of interests within an agreed upon normative and political framework, but generate new normative frameworks (related to values, new forms of identity, new institutions) and aspire to alter the relations of power in a democracy.

Students will work in teams to develop and present a case study to the class on a particular movement. Rather than an exam, the course will conclude with a short paper that explores in greater depth one of the case studies we have considered. A limited number of students may also have the option of writing a longer course paper to earn an additional written work credit. Cross-registrants are welcome. Enrollment is limited to 50 students, 25 of whom will be admitted with permission of the instructor based on the student’s statement of interest submitted to my faculty assistant Janet Moran at

Students who would like to participate in the optional clinical must enroll through clinical registration. Please refer to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs website for clinical registration dates, early add/drop deadlines, and other clinical information.

Subject Areas: Legal Profession, Legal Ethics & Professional Responsibility