Home » Eduardo Capulong and Rebellious Lawyering

Eduardo Capulong and Rebellious Lawyering

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Excerpted from Eduardo R.C. Capulong, CLIENT ACTIVISM IN PROGRESSIVE LAWYERING THEORY, 16 Clinical L. Rev. 109 (2009):

“A contending school of thought sees little problem with lawyers functioning as both technicians and organizers. In his influential book, for example, Gerald López calls for ‘rebellious lawyers’ to be ‘co-eminent’ practitioners with their clients. Instead of a hierarchical attorney-client relationship in which the lawyer always formally represents the client, López envisions a problem-solving, collaborative approach in which the client’s expertise is accorded equal weight.”

“López’s 1992 book, Rebellious Lawyering, was perhaps the most influential work to offer a systematic approach in this regard. Criticizing what he termed ‘regnant’ lawyering, he argued for a vision of ‘teaching self-help and lay lawyering’ and of ‘co-eminent’ practitioners of lawyers and clients. The ‘rebellious lawyer,’ López argued,

‘must know how to work with (not just on behalf of) women, low-income people, people of color, gays and lesbians, the disabled, and the elderly. They must know how to collaborate with other professional and lay allies rather than ignoring the help that these other problem-solvers may provide in a given situation. They must understand how to educate those with whom they work, particularly about law and professional lawyering, and, at the same time, they must open themselves up to being educated by all those with whom they come in contact, particularly about the traditions and experiences of life on the bottom and at the margins.’”

“López argued that rebellious lawyers must ground themselves in the communities and lives of the subordinated, continually evaluate legal and nonlegal approaches, know how to strategize, build coalitions—and appreciate how all that they do with others requires attention not only to international, national, and regional matters but also to their interplay with seemingly more mundane local affairs. At bottom, the rebellious idea of lawyering demands that lawyers (and those with whom they work) nurture sensibilities and skills compatible with a collective fight for social change.”

“As Angelo Ancheta summarized in his review essay of López’s book: ‘Lopez’s rebellious lawyers . . . are deeply rooted in the communities in which they live and work. They collaborate with other service agencies and with the clients themselves; they try to educate members of the community about their rights; they explore the possibilities of change and continually reexamine their own work in order to help their clients best. Rebellious lawyering thus redefines the lawyer-client relationship as a cooperative partnership in which knowledge and power are shared, rejecting a relationship limited to an active professional working on behalf of the passive, relatively powerless layperson.’”

“López anchored his theory on a narrative-based understanding of persuasive problem-solving. The use of narrative and story-telling became a dominant feature of postmodern scholarship in the 1990s. Eschewing structuralism and ‘meta-theory,’ some proponents–though not López–even argued that the very act of telling marginalized and silenced stories would destabilize existing institutional arrangements. Persuasion was key. As López himself explained: ‘We see and understand the world through “stock stories.” These stories help us interpret the everyday world with limited information and help us make choices about asserting our own needs and responding to other people. These stock stories embody our deepest human, social and political values. At the same time, they help us carry out the routine activities of life without constantly having to analyze or question what we are doing … . To solve a problem through persuasion of another, we therefore must understand and manipulate the stock stories the other person uses in order to tell a plausible and compelling story – one that moves that person to grant the remedy we want.’”

“Lopez’s approach was very influential. Indeed, his approach crystallized the progressive critique of liberal public interest law practice as undermining, rather than furthering, client activism. Many activist lawyers now self-consciously aspire to practice ‘rebelliously.’”

“For López, grand narratives were suspect. His larger project emanated simply from the lawyer-client collaboration and ‘as an instrument of practical problem-solving and daily living.’”