Rebellious Lawyering: One Chicano's Vision of Progressive Law Practice.

Author:Ball, Milner S.

By Gerald P. Lopez. Boulder: Westview Press. 1992. Pp. ix, 433. Cloth, $48.50; paper, $16.95.

Gerald Lopez(1) entered law school in 1970 wanting to do left-wing activist work and found himself having to overcome, rather than take advantage of, the law school experience. He is still overcoming it and the type of law practice it generally begets. Rebellious Lawyering is a fruit of his struggle.

In law school, Lopez located a few others committed to social change who shared his disappointment. They began to rely on each other and to draw on the communities and experiences that shaped them prior to entering this "place entirely ill-prepared for [their] coming" (p. 4). "[T]he plain conversations of primos and tios and abuelitos around [his] family's kitchen table" informed Lopez's own "|homegrown' views" about lawyering (p. 7). He believed that "radical lawyering" must be anchored in the world it tries to change, where it belongs to relatives', friends', and allies' struggle against oppression and to their coping, fighting, and laughter (p. 7). Lopez formed such ideas about lawyering in opposition to what he had seen as a teenager: "that first wave of lawyers who arrived in East L.A. . . . no doubt reflecting the law school and post-law school training they received" (p. 5). They came to do good with their professional expertise but "tended only to buttress what they tried . . . to reconstruct" (p. 5).

Lopez's early views about law were "raw and incomplete and perhaps even parochially Chicano" (p. 8). Now they are maturer and richer, but his approach remains basically unchanged: rebellious lawyers do not bring power down from the social-political high places but participate in its creation -- like Lopez himself in law school -- by relying on each other and on the communities that constitute them.2

Rebellious Lawyering proposes Lopez's approach to the partially converted. He identifies alternative practice, "rebellious lawyering," as an antitype of the idea he labels "regnant lawyering" (p. 29). But the regnant lawyering he opposes is not the practice of law on behalf of oppressors, although he opposes that too. Rather, it is a form of practice on behalf of the oppressed, "the regnant idea of practice for the subordinated" (p. 23). He addresses his plea to those who already "struggle to change the world" and who "decide in small ways every day whether (like most) to acquiesce in the idea's reign, or whether . . . to elaborate a different idea of practice."(3)

I am eager to see what effect Rebellious Lawyering will have on my students. I added it to the list of texts for a class composed of people who entered law school in 1991 and 1992. They do not necessarily want to do left-wing or right-wing activist work, but most are committed to living lives on behalf of others. Such lives appear to me as difficult to construct now -- with and against present institutions -- as they were when Lopez started law school.

I am older than Lopez, and, although bound for a similar destination, I come at lawyering from a different direction. But my students are not given to such nice distinctions. To them, he and I probably appear much the same: fellow-traveling Protestants from the generation of relaxed-fit jeans. What do those of us from the 1970s and earlier have to say to those of the 1990s, and what do they have to say to us? Will my students be instructed by his urgings as I hope they will? Will they differentiate his urgings from mine as I also hope they will?


    1. Species Identification

      Early in the first chapter, Lopez provides a summary of identifying characteristics of regnant lawyers (pp. 23-24), the way bird books open with a handy reference chart for field use. The guide led me to imagine the essential regnant bird as a well-meaning liberal, perhaps white and male, embarked on a mission he does and does not believe is righteous. The reader is specifically directed to look for lawyers enamored of litigation, for that allows them to play hero. Regnant lawyers are convinced of the necessity of active leadership by professionals, especially lawyers. They find participation in community education to be of only marginal importance. They are not associated with community institutions, and they have little practical understanding of the power of legal, political, economic, and social structures. Their lawyering dominates. It dominates clients in particular.

      Rebellious lawyers compose a contrasting species -- often multicolored and typically female -- and Lopez offers an introductory guide to identify them as well:

      [They] refuse to be overwhelmed by the daily detail of work, just as they

      refuse to believe that the regnant idea is either natural or inevitable. Instead,

      they manage somehow to re-approach their work, to make it up as

      they go along, with no master plan, and by fits and starts. . . . Rather

      than letting themselves get nothing but frustrated over the lack of fully

      developed theoretical help, they try . . . to draw on marginalized experiences,

      neglected institutions and dormant imagination to redefine what

      clients, lawyers, and others can do to change their lives. [p. 29]

      I was particularly drawn to the "making it up as they go along" and the drawing from unattended sources along the way. My own version of "making it up" with the aid of neglected resources has given pause to some people, not least to my students.(4) It has given pause to me. Perhaps my students and 1, when we read this part of Rebellious Lawyering together, will be emboldened to press ahead nonetheless.

    2. Initial Takes

      The first summary statements of regnant and rebellious lawyering are intended to prepare the reader for what follows. The chief medium of exposition throughout the book is not essay but narrative: fictional pieces about characters composed out of Lopez's experiences and observations. The stories are textual performances primarily of what he means by rebellious lawyering but also, for contrast, regnant lawyering. Periodically, Lopez intervenes with authorial comments and questions.

      Lopez deploys characters in the stories of Chapter One -- Catherine, Teresa, Abe, Jonathan, Sophie, Amos -- to illustrate first one and then another component of the two types of lawyering. Among the components of rebellious lawyering is association with everyday living and with the stories of ordinary people as a primary means of understanding and of transformation. Another is collaboration with other lawyers and with "lay" lawyers, nonprofessionals skillfully immersed in their communities.(5) A third component is demystification -- that is, making law accessible to everyone and making subordinated people's sense of the world accessible to lawyers.(6) The fourth is the fundamental reorientation of lawyering toward education in support of self-help.(7)

      The points are clearly made and well taken, and I shall hope to find ways to encourage my students to digest them. But I do have a bone to pick with the text and hope to find ways to get my students to gnaw on it a little. Lopez is a gifted writer with important insights into the damning morbidity and redeeming possibilities of doing law real law with real people. Nevertheless the first chapter -- and the others less often -- has about it something of the programmatic, an element that runs counter to the genuine, particular, illuminating humanity of the...

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