A Community Lawyering

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Civil Rights, Legal Practice, Milwaukee, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on A Community Lawyering

(Gratitude to Rodrigo Sanchez for assistance in compiling data on 53206.)

The Shriver Center in Chicago provides training on a particular model of community-based lawyering.  They define “community lawyering” as “using legal advocacy to help achieve solutions to community-identified issues in ways that develop local leadership and institutions that can continue to exert power to effect systemic change.” The concept grew out of the older ideas of community organizing generally pioneered by Saul Alinsky’s work in 1930s and 40s Chicago, where, broadly speaking, the goal is to promote the empowerment of citizens, i.e. members of the community, to address problems and effect change. These ideas were applied to the practice of law at least as far back as 1970 in the form of a Yale Law Journal article where Stephen Wexler outlined a number of ways in which effective lawyering in an impoverished community is different from the traditional practice of law.

Whereas the traditional lawyering model sets up an adversarial dynamic between parties, community lawyering may engage alternative systems of relational power or power sharing aimed at ultimate reconciliation or compromise, founded on a recognition of common interests between parties.  (See Ross Dolloff & Marc Potvin, Community Lawyering—Why Now?, 37 Clearinghouse Review 136 (July–Aug. 2003)).  Whereas traditional lawyering may entail simply spotting issues that can be resolved through litigation or formal legal recourse, community lawyering can approach citizen-identified problems as opportunities to engage stakeholders in a broader conversation in the hope of building authentic, trusting relationships.  Whereas the traditional lawyer model is that of a litigator, negotiator of claims, and counselor to the client, the community lawyer’s focus may be to “develop inside the client population a sustainable knowledge base that allows the population to build foundations for opportunity from within,” to identify and defeat the causes of poverty.  Whereas in the traditional lawyering model the attorney is the “voice” of the client before the court, in a community lawyering model, the strategy and policies are accountable to the voice of the population being served.  The lawyer assists a community in identifying a structural barrier (access to economic resources, housing, sustainability, stability, employment opportunities, political voice, etc.) and then helps build capacity within the community to take action (through organizing, relationship building, advocacy, policy development, traditional case work, etc.).

The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee applied for and received a grant funded by the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation to introduce its related but unique approach of embedding lawyers into communities called “neighborhood lawyering,” focused on two targeted communities in Milwaukee.  Continue reading “A Community Lawyering”

The Unprofessionals

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, U.S. Supreme Court1 Comment on The Unprofessionals

In the decade after the American Civil War, Congress ratified three Amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) and passed five civil rights statutes (the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1870, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875) in an attempt to integrate African Americans into society and provide them with the full rights and privileges of citizenship.  From rights to vote, hold property, and contract, to rights of access to the courts, public infrastructure, and the marketplace, these enactments represented a dream of reconstruction that strove toward a more universal application of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.  In striking down and interpreting these laws, the decisions of the Supreme Court played a crucial role in curtailing the promise of this older civil rights movement.  The Court’s undermining of the laws led to the legal segregation, discrimination, terrorizing, denial of due process, lynching, murdering, exploitation, and injustice that characterizes the African American experience in the century that followed.

The highlight reel that we all study in Constitutional Law class includes:

Continue reading “The Unprofessionals”

Our Dullened Rhetorical Swords

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Political Processes & Rhetoric, PublicLeave a comment» on Our Dullened Rhetorical Swords

Okay, class, we will now turn to sentence diagramming.  Let’s take the example on page 15, begin reading:

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John [T] at MIT; good genes, very good genes, okay, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

What is the subject of this sentence?  Who can identify the predicate? Continue reading “Our Dullened Rhetorical Swords”

Toward a Modality of Jurisprudence

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Public2 Comments on Toward a Modality of Jurisprudence

The beginning of this month marked the 45th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s term as Associate Justice in the United States Supreme Court. Known for his championing of individual rights while on the bench and for, previously, successfully arguing against school segregation for the NAACP in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), Marshall was a trailblazer who spoke up for those who did not have a voice. His status as the first African American Supreme Court Justice represents the forging of a path for which there was no antecedent. Pushing off to smite the sounding furrows, into the tumult of a civilization brimming with intolerance is not unlike casting headlong into a polluted river.

In my posts this month I have tried to showcase guideposts in approaching jurisprudence. I submit that the perpetuation of injustice represents a failure of the imagination, the inability to conceive of a better option, a different path, a truer argument or equitable solution. The history of the law is the story of our strivings to envision and enact a more fair and just world. Pruning our minds toward this task takes practice and attention. We benefit from the example of individuals like Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Continue reading “Toward a Modality of Jurisprudence”

My Father’s Recommendations

Posted on Categories Popular Culture & Law, Public4 Comments on My Father’s Recommendations

When I was an undergrad in the UW Milwaukee film program my father recommended I see four movies. He hoped they would encourage me to pursue a career in law, which I was generally opposed to, not really knowing any lawyers well and aware that just about everyone hates lawyers. I think he wanted me to see that attorneys can, at times, play a role in society more useful than that of the punch line to a joke.

Similar to Hemingway’s list of books that he “would rather read again for the first time . . . than have an assured income of a million dollars a year,” these titles, for me, have served as guiding lights, models of what practicing the law can be:

1. Inherit the Wind (1960) – A Hollywood dramatization of the Scopes trial that occurred in Tennessee in 1925 over the teaching of evolution in schools, you have to stomach some quaint plot exposition to get to the engaging courtroom scenes. A favorite is the defense’s questioning of a young boy who had been exposed to the science teacher’s course. He asks the young man: “What Mr. Cares told you, did it hurt your baseball game any? Affect your pitching arm any?” This simple line of questioning goes a long way in conveying the frivolousness of the charge. The ending is satisfactorily honest, deviating from the Hollywood formula and staying true to the real case, in that the defense loses. Continue reading “My Father’s Recommendations”

Inherently Subversive Pedagogy

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Education & Law, Legal Education, Legal Writing, Public, Race & Law4 Comments on Inherently Subversive Pedagogy

In 2010 the Arizona legislature created a law designed to deter the teaching of a Mexican American Studies course in Tucson schools by cutting State funding to districts with courses that, among other things, “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”  After a finding by the state court in 2011 and under the threat of a $15 million fine, the Tucson district was forced to stop utilizing a course that was available to all students, was effectively closing the achievement gap, and was successful in helping Latino students attend college.  One aspect of enforcement that the district decided on was banning the use of many books that were a part of the Mexican American Studies program from schools.

I was introduced to the Tucson curriculum issue in Professor Mazzie’s first semester Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing 1 class last fall.  Our assignment was to write a brief memo on whether the Tucson course was in violation of A.R.S. § 15-112.  The constitutionality of the Arizona law itself has since been called into question under the purview of a federally appointed special master who is overseeing the Tucson School District’s mandated desegregation.  It was satisfying to see, earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agree with my position in Professor Mazzie’s class that the curriculum was not necessarily a per se violation of A.R.S. § 15-112 anyway. Continue reading “Inherently Subversive Pedagogy”

North Midwestern Bewilderment – A Bio Piece

Posted on Categories Popular Culture & Law, Public2 Comments on North Midwestern Bewilderment – A Bio Piece

The other day I was walking along the Milwaukee River in Estrabrook Park amazed, as I am every year, at the colors of the leaves changing. I noticed around ten different individuals wading in the water and casting flies into the current. My mind went back to John D. Voelker, the attorney, author, Michigan Supreme Court Justice, and fly-fisherman who was as at home in the north woods and spinning a narrative as he was in a courtroom.

One of the most cited Michigan Supreme Court decisions authored by Voelker is Mitcham v. City of Detroit, 355 Mich. 182 (1959). In it the court examined a tort case by a couple who had been injured while riding in a “trackless motor coach” that stopped abruptly, hurling the wife into a metal stanchion. The legal issue turned on whether or not the plaintiff’s prima facie negligence argument was of proper form. In finding for the Mitchams, Justice Voelker, writing for the majority, took the opportunity to make some broader assessments about litigation and the aims of procedure:

“The cause of a deserving litigant is no less dead when it is slain by a procedural arrow than if there were no cause at all. . . . It is bad enough that individual litigants have thus been made unjustly to suffer, but that is not all. This has frequently been done with the helpless acquiescence if not active aid of our courts. Too often the trial of cases has become a game of legal hide-and-seek. Just as bad has been the accompanying bewilderment and cynicism of the public—including the jurors who vainly sat on the case—over the baffling mysteries and vagaries of the law. The public has sometimes been righter than it knew.” Id. at 196. Continue reading “North Midwestern Bewilderment – A Bio Piece”