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Lawyers’ Liberation (draft 10.8.21)

I write in the middle of the Covid pandemic, and on the basis of my experience in the U.S. legal system. We are seeing accelerated efforts to extract all possible profits; raging racism (newly obvious to growing numbers of white people); and fires, storms, drought, and floods caused by the climate crisis. These events have affected everyone, including lawyers.

Throughout history and in every economic system, people have created and interpreted laws. Most laws are essentially agreements among the owning class about how members of a society will act toward each other. These laws regulate our institutions and relationships, all in the interest of the owning class. For our laws to mean anything, the agreements  must be kept.

This “rule of law,” where we agree to be governed by laws, has been increasingly broken. The pandemic, the racism, and the climate crisis reveal the extent of the breakdown. The roots of the breakdown, however, are found in the for-profit system, based on greed and force. As long as the system is unjust, there can be no real justice.

Some laws exist to protect basic human, economic, and civil rights, and they are almost always the result of long struggles by oppressed peoples. Because of ongoing attempts by the dominant society to erode these pro-human laws, oppressed peoples must make ongoing efforts (inside and outside the legal system) to maintain them.

WHO WE ARE

Like all people, lawyers are completely good. In addition to our inherent goodness, we learn important skills: analyzing, writing and communicating clearly, and being disciplined and organized. We stand up for ideas and for clients (sometimes we are the only person to do so).

Lawyers, law students, and judges are workers, members of the small middle-class part of the working class. Although we are actual workers, we function as “middle agents,” that is, we represent to the wider society the interests of the owning class. Whether a lawyer tries to maintain the status quo or to reform it, we act in the interests of the owning class. A lawyer may earn a lot of money, or not much; may try to rethink legal theory and go beyond current legal interpretations, or practice according to the rules. Either way, we still operate within the oppressive capitalist system.

Lawyers can decide to be part of movements to end all forms of humans harming humans. Many, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Mohandas Gandhi, have moved the law forward in their aim for reform. Others, like Nelson Mandela, have been a force for liberation. In my retirement, I am studying Native American law to understand the relevance today of the different ways the law has been used oppressively to harm Indigenous people and transformatively to benefit them. Any lawyer who struggles to transform the law, in little and big ways, knows that the effort requires constant labor, because any hard-won gains are eroded by the forces of oppression that underlie capitalism.

OPPRESSION AS WORKERS

Law school, the licensing process, and legal work restimulate early hurts of confusion, fear, and isolation. Law school tells students that nothing they have learned so far in life is useful to them as lawyers. It teaches that the law is not accessible to everyone; only lawyers understand it. Students learn to pretend to know answers, so  as to avoid public humiliation and embarrassment.

Lawyers are vulnerable to patterns of competition and greed (the lure of status, money, and pseudo-power). We are taught to stay distant from our clients and to mistrust other lawyers. Whether our job is negotiation or advocacy, we learn that fame, high status, and seeming power are achieved by winning, by being superior to someone else. We are pulled to accept limited roles within the current system and are discouraged from cooperating to solve society’s problems.

Because white-male domination determines the culture and content of much of the law, lawyers are oppressed by sexism, racism, and the oppression of young adults. Having begun law school as young adults, many of us are influenced to accept our oppressions as “the way the world of adults works.”

Lawyers are oppressed as workers by the social and economic system. We often work long hours and are pressured to be available to clients or employers, even when we are at home. We are trained to put work first and not pay attention to ourselves, our families, personal difficulties, or feelings. Our isolation from both friends and opponents is reinforced by rules of confidentiality and by competition. And because we play a middle-agent role, we are among the groups blamed for what is wrong with our society.

A question I ask any law student, lawyer, or judge: What is your story as you challenge the legal system to move toward a rational world?

FOR SESSIONS AND TO KEEP PERSPECTIVE

As a contradiction to the anti-lawyer sentiment that goes unchallenged in society, counselors can delight in their lawyer clients, in three-ways if need be.

Some topics for sessions: Law school (and why we went). What we love and hate about being lawyers. Early and current dreams of justice. Learning about injustice. Our own classist patterns. Classism directed at us. Ending classism. Any sexism, racism, men’s oppression, anti-Semitism, young adult oppression, and so on, we have experienced in our life as a lawyer. Closeness with other lawyers (a good idea—what’s in the way?). Details of our work (remembering we are more important than the work). Resting deeply (in session).

Here are some key directions for us to hold in our minds for discharge and for keeping perspective:

  • There is no inherent conflict of interest between any two people.
  • As a lawyer, I know some things; and so does everyone else.
  • I will hold up every (legal) decision I make to the light of discharge (that is, I will use discharge in making each decision).
  • I can act with integrity in my work. And this means. . . .
  • I will do the work that will allow me to follow the lead of the people of the global majority, working-class people, and young people around me.
  • I will notice and connect with all people, really listening and as my full self.

Marsha Hunter
International Liberation Reference Person for Lawyers

 

 

 

 


Last modified: 2021-10-09 14:01:50+00