Home » Rebellious Lawyering, Law Pedagogy and Practice: Bill Ong Hing

Rebellious Lawyering, Law Pedagogy and Practice: Bill Ong Hing

Bill Ong Hing, J.D.

Professor of Law

University of San Francisco School of Law and

UC Davis School of Law

General Counsel for Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Throughout his career, Professor Hing’s pursued social justice through a combination of community work, litigation, and scholarship. He is the author of numerous academic and practice-oriented publications on immigration policy and race relations, including Ethical Borders—NAFTA, Globalization, and Mexican Migration (Temple University Press, 2010), Deporting Our Souls-Morality, Values, and Immigration Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Defining America Through Immigration Policy (Temple University Press, 2004), and Making and Remaking Asian America Through Immigration Policy (Stanford University Press, 1993). His book To Be An American: Cultural Pluralism and the Rhetoric of Assimilation (NYU Press, 1997) received the award for Outstanding Academic Book by the librarians’ journal Choice. At UC Davis, Hing directed the law school clinical program. He was also co-counsel in the precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court asylum case, INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca (1987). Hing is the founder of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco and continues to volunteer as general counsel for this organization. He serves on the board of the Southeast Asian Refugee Action Center and is president of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission.





“In Gerald López’s seminal work on collaborative, rebellious, community lawyering, he explains:

‘In this idea – what I call the rebellious idea of lawyering against subordination – lawyers 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 into contact, particularly about the traditions and experiences of life on the bottom and at the margins.’”

“A key element of López’s vision is that the subordinated groups usually have expert knowledge of forces of repression and have developed skills for handling them. Survival requires that subordinated groups develop such understanding and the ability to anticipate the wishes and reactions of those forces. López urges lawyers to respect and tap such knowledge and skills and to endeavor to develop their own analogous ‘feel for how things work in communities and institutions. Rebellious lawyers can do so primarily by honing their listening skills and powers of observation. One need only think of the survival skills that racially-excluded and interned Japanese Americans had to develop in order to understand their problem-solving talents in the context of López’s vision.”

“López does not argue that subordinated people’s knowledge and stories are better than those of lawyers. In his vision, both groups are essential to the struggle ‘to fundamentally transform the world.’ To make such change, López explains, subordinated groups and their attorneys ‘do not want simply to add to each other’s knowledge, a bit of this and a bit of that coexisting easily. Instead, they desire to challenge what each knows – how each gained it, what each believes about it, how each shares and uses it.’ Rather than emphasizing their fragility or placing lower-income people on a pedestal, López urges lawyers to engage their clients as true equals, worthy of respect but also of caring confrontation. He calls for a collaboration of ‘co-eminent’ practitioners, by whom he means lawyers, clients, and other potential problem-solvers such as community activists, organizers, media, administrators, policy makers, researchers, and funders. The existence and relevance of these other lay problem-solvers is a core element of López’s vision. In his view, careful investigation of subordinated communities reveals many individuals, groups, and organizations working to challenge subordination. In López’s vision, lawyers must be skilled legal technicians and engaged public citizens and activists. They must expertly navigate and integrate many worlds: the legal, interpersonal, social, and political.”

“Given the community origins of the Soko Bukai legal team, it is easy to see the basis for the extraordinary collaboration that took place between the team and the community in Lópezian fashion. The Soko Bukai legal team’s respectful collaboration with allies – community, individual, government, and  even among themselves – was a model of rebellious community lawyering. Consider the following examples.”

“The case was generated by community interest and action in collaboration with the attorneys. When word of the SF YWCA’s proposed sale came out, Kimochi (a senior citizens program in Japantown) expressed interest in purchasing the building. Paul Osaki, the executive director of the Japanese Community and Cultural Center of Northern California, called together several community groups to discuss the situation. One of the groups included in the discussions was Nihonmachi Little Friends, so attorney Kai, as a Little Friends board member, became involved. The goal was to take a united community approach to acquire the building for community use, rather than to allow it to be put to commercial use. In the summer of 1996, Kimochi was the organization that actively pursued purchasing the building from the SF YWCA. By then, community rumors were circulating, raising the question of who truly owned the building. Community members recalled contributing money toward the purchase of the building, and a sense emerged that at the very least, the SF YWCA had a moral responsibility to act equitably with the community. The community groups, however, found the SF YWCA frustrating to deal with even at this point. Kimochi assigned a volunteer with a financial background to research the history of the building, and he discovered the trust language in the YWCA minutes from the 1920s. Kimochi representatives were not sure if the language meant anything, so they consulted with Kai, since she was one of the only lawyers in the group. At this point, the group was looking for some leverage – perhaps legal leverage – with the SF YWCA because the community was experiencing communications problems with the SF YWCA. There was “community memory” of an analogous building just a few blocks from the SF YWCA. That building served as the Japanese community center during World War II and was never returned to the community. The Salvation Army operated the building and sold it to the Chinese government to serve as a consulate. While the Salvation Army did create a fund in response to protests by the community, the building was lost to the community and that experience was in the community’s mind when the SF YWCA sale was proposed.”

“Paul Osaki also turned to attorney Tamaki for assistance later in 1996. When legal claims of the trust needed to be asserted, the attorneys and the community decided that Soko Bukai was in the best position to assert these claims. Involving the churches was also critical in bringing in a real grassroots constituency, which provided the impetus for collaborative efforts to engage in community outreach and education on the issues. In fact, church leaders would not act without the support of their congregations. Tamaki focused on working with the community and creating informational messages. The churches and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) hired interns to work on community education pieces. A petition drive was conducted, and three thousand signatures in support of the action were gathered in a three-month period. JACL offices held fundraising events to support the education efforts.”





Excerpted from Bill Ong Hing, COOLIES, JAMES YEN, AND REBELLIOUS ADVOCACY, 14 Asian Am. L.J. 1 (2007):

“Indeed, Yen’s approach fits well within the theoretical lawyering framework advanced by Jerry López, Lucie White, and Ascanio Pomelli. These scholars, who are grounded in ongoing community work, have challenged us to re-imagine our roles as community lawyers. They advocate a collaborative approach that respects clients’ decision-making capacities, seeks allies in the pursuit of social justice, and is open to learning from clients and community partners.”

“In this article, I first provide some background on Yen and describe his incredible work in Europe, China, and the Philippines. I then revisit the scholarship of López, White, and Piomelli as their theories and experiences pertain to community lawyering in the rebellious or collaborative style, and I relate Yen’s historic work to the philosophy and concepts they advance. My hope is thus to remind contemporary rebellious advocates of collaborative possibilities.”

“The Relevance of Yen’s Work to Collaborative and Rebellious Lawyering Scholarship…

In reflecting on the accomplishments of Y.C. James Yen in helping peasants, laborers, and farmers in Europe, China, and the Philippines, the similarities to the theoretical lawyering framework advanced by Jerry López, Lucie White, and, most recently, Ascanio Piomelli, become clear. Yen’s efforts advance their framework by providing an important example of working for social change on the ground. At the same time, their framework helps us understand the importance of Yen’s work to community lawyers.”

“A number of interrelated elements or principles drawn from López, White, and Piomelli are relevant:

  • Educating clients and communities to support resistance;
  • Opening ourselves to being educated by clients, communities, and allies;
  • Recognizing that there is no need to romanticize the client’s knowledge or vision;
  • Highlighting the importance of collaboration;
  • Respecting clients instead of repeating a subordinating experience;
  • Taking on the extremely challenging battles that collaborative advocacy leads to, despite the odds;
  • Integrating and navigating many worlds.

In the following sections, I introduce these principles and share my reflections on how Yen’s work falls within their schemes.”

“Educate clients and communities to support resistance:  Community legal services offices commonly engage in community education. For example, the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco touts community education and organizing as a key strategy in effectively providing much-needed services. Similarly, the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid engages in community legal education as part of the extensive direct and phone-based civil support it provides. In López’s view, rebellious lawyers are also educators because in seeking to demystify the law, ‘[t]hey must understand how to educate those with whom they work, particularly about law and professional lawyering.’ But to López, the goal of community education is more than transmitting information about legal rights or benefit eligibility rules. Wherever groups of lower-income people meet or can be brought together, López sees opportunities for rebellious advocates to nurture and further their resistance to social, political, and economic subordination by ‘train[ing] groups of subordinated people to represent themselves and others.’”

“The notions of teaching self-help and to further resistance appeared central to Yen’s approach in the battle against subordination of peasants and laborers. In the coolie camps of France and the villages of China and the Philippines, Yen’s approach to teaching provided students with the tools they needed to teach themselves. The Farmer Scholar Program and the People’s School System were ultimate iterations of the self-help programs. Lay volunteers were trained to be health workers and later became the proud foundation of the community health system in villages. The teaching materials that he used and developed with the students–especially their own newspapers and radio reports–provided not only reading practice materials, but content that served a political purpose.”

“Similarly, resistance and combating subordination were the topics of Yen’s four-pronged educational components (literacy, livelihood, health, and citizenship) that were implemented in schools, home, and community. As Yen recognized, ‘What good is it to fatten a man’s purse, teach him to read and write, and help him towards better health, if he remains dependent on government and others? He must be taught the responsibility of citizenship in a democratic society, shown how to band with neighbors to run community affairs. Education in citizenship is at the very core of rural reconstruction. Self-government is not a gift from above; it is an achievement by the people.’”

“Be open to being educated by clients, communities, and allies:  Partly from a sense of humility, López and White remind us that we must be open to being educated by those with whom we work. Rebellious lawyers ‘must open themselves up to being educated by all those with whom they come into contact, particularly about the traditions and experiences of life on the bottom and at the margins.’”

“A key element of López’s vision is that subordinated groups usually have expert knowledge about forces of repression and have developed skills for handling them. López urges lawyers to respect and tap into such knowledge and skills, as well as to endeavor to develop their own analogous ‘feel’ for how things work in communities and institutions. One need only think of the survival skills that racially-excluded and interned Japanese Americans had to develop in order to understand their problem-solving talents. In the face of their detention, they helped to maintain education programs for the children and a social life for everyone. Some even survived by demonstrating their loyalty to the U.S. through military service. Learning from our subordinated clients is critical and ‘remarkably complex and enigmatic work–with multiple and even elusive dimensions, presenting massive conceptual and empirical challenges, and cultural and interpersonal dynamics more daunting and even more self-defining than we are accustomed to handling.’”

“With regards to being open to and humble about learning, Yen was clearly in sync with López and White. His insistence on living with farmers in their homes in Dingxian and his demand that other intellectuals do the same are perhaps the best examples. To Yen, it was not simply an exercise in convenience or friendship; he believed that for the intellectuals to become effective teachers, they first had to learn to change their orientation and perspective. He was skeptical of a Chinese educational system that simply mimicked foreign systems. It was from living with farmers that he recognized the xian (county) was not simply an administrative unit but also a rural social unit that could be used for teaching. For Yen, going to and learning from the people was ‘[t]he most wonderful part of it all . . . the discovery of our own people. . . . We were so stirred, so inspired, by the splendid qualities of our own common people.’ His credo of starting ‘with what the people know’ could only be determined by learning from them.”

“Eliminate needless romanticization of clients: In López’s view, as described by Piomelli, subordinated people’s knowledge and stories are not necessarily better than those of lawyers–both groups are essential to the struggle ‘to fundamentally transform the world.’ To make such change, López explains, subordinated groups and their attorneys do not want simply to add to each other’s knowledge–a bit of this and a bit of that coexisting easily. Instead, they desire to challenge what each knows–how each gained it, what each believes about it, how each shares and uses it. As an alternative to emphasizing lower-income clients’ fragility or placing them on a pedestal, López urges lawyers to engage their clients as true equals, worthy not only of respect but also of caring confrontation.”

“Over time, the skilled rebellious lawyer and her clients develop respect for each other’s views; in the process, the lawyer becomes mature enough to be open-minded to those other views and to challenging questions. I believe that Yen would agree with this vision; while he had the utmost respect and admiration for the peasants with whom he worked and from whom he learned, he also challenged their views, as they challenged his. Ultimately, the work of Yen’s team and the Dingxian villagers’ approaches became interdependent in the struggle to fight subordination. For example, when Yen went to live and work with the farmers of Dingxian, he anticipated objections on the farmers’ part to modern ideals and standards of public health. But by gradually developing a respectful relationship with them, Yen successfully challenged the farmers’ understanding of public health, and they adapted modern public health solutions as a part of their overall approach to resisting subordination. The mutual confidence took years to build, but eventually, ‘they were a part of us and we of them.’ Similarly, when Yen first announced his plans to teach the coolies how to read and write, his plans were met with laughter and skepticism from his prospective students. Yet Yen challenged the coolies’ assumptions about themselves because he respected their abilities, and the coolies’ respect for Yen led to their successful partnership in learning.”

“Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate:  The concept of collaboration, as advanced by López, White, and Piomelli, is premised on other elements such as lawyers respecting their clients’ abilities and knowledge, learning from clients and clients’ communities, and reconceptualizing their role as community lawyers. López urges community lawyers to remain open to collaborating with lower-income individuals, groups, and institutions and to exploring social and political problem-solving approaches, rather than assuming that lawyers are always best suited to ‘represent’ clients and that legal arenas are always the most appropriate forums for solving problems. He calls for an alliance of ‘co-eminent’ practitioners–lawyers, clients, and other potential problem-solvers such as community activists, organizers, media, administrators, policy-makers, researchers, and funders, working with their clients as true equals. The existence and relevance of lay problem-solvers are core elements of López’s vision. In his view, as described by Piomelli, careful investigation of lower-income and subordinated communities reveals that many individuals and organizations are working to challenge subordination.”

“Yen personified the ideal of the collaborative advocate as he lived and worked alongside peasants and coolies. Together, Yen and his students planned and developed curricula, reading materials, radio programs, and transmitter stations; they revised teaching texts based on the needs of the people as well as on their feedback and criticism. More significantly, Yen trained his students to become teachers themselves–not simply for efficiency’s sake but also because he knew that they would be more effective teachers of their own communities than any outsiders could be. In fact, even in France in the early days of his career, Yen fostered collaboration, insisting that with his guidance, the coolies could learn to write their own letters. He constantly recruited teachers and scholars to help, often encouraging them to re-imagine themselves as collaborators. Yen acknowledged that a quarter of his time with these intellectuals was spent on gentle coaching through the constant process of discussing the benefits of collaboration because many had never before experienced teamwork. He used graduation ceremonies in France and China, where he invited generals and influential leaders, to create a network of allies who joined forces in promoting education. He promoted town meetings where village residents were elected to become educational campaign leaders. Making sure not to assume center stage, he stood with his peasant students, not simply in resisting subordination but in proactively fighting to better their lives.”

“Respect clients:  Rebellious lawyers, in their collaborative efforts to avoid subordination, must avoid subordinating their own clients. López, White, and Piomelli share the belief that prevailing lawyering practices disserve lower-income clients. All too often, the community lawyer fails ‘to appreciate clients’ goals of preserving dignity and maintaining some control [and the client’s own ability] to act against their own oppression.’”

“Collaborative lawyers ought to be striving to implement a ‘collective, cooperative approach to problem-solving [that] treats clients and communities as fully human partners.’”

“Avoiding subordination in the attorney-client relationship equates to lawyers truly valuing their clients’ informed judgment and skills, and recognizing the necessity of active roles for clients in the collaborative process. In the rebellious lawyering model, social change is accomplished by this partnership with and empowerment of clients and communities; the goal of collaboration becomes more than a simple ‘win.’”

“Yen’s refusal to subordinate his students was demonstrated time and again through his actions, from the first time he informed his first group of students in France that they would have to write their own letters, to his encouragement of subsequent generations of farmer-scholars and the transformation of countless numbers of peasants from students to teachers. Emboldened by Yen’s approach, residents in towns and villages organized group meetings. Teachers recruited from new communities taught their own classes using Yen’s curriculum after seeing its practicality and usefulness. Leadership development, an offshoot of respect for students, was itself an integral part of the strategy; the result was that both teachers and students emerged with elevated spirit and an increased sense of worth.”

“Take on the battles that collaborative advocacy leads to, even if the odds seem insurmountable:  White, in particular, warns the rebellious lawyer that in collaborating with others and in reconceptualizing her role, the battles may become extremely challenging. Why engage in these impossible battles? What sense do they make if they result in an administrative or judicial loss or if the efforts are frustrated by law or politics? First of all, a ‘loss’ is only a ‘loss’ depending on who is defining its parameters. Much can still be gained from the effort. The gain may come from the unity of the effort, from the camaraderie, and from the sense of worth or even pride in fighting the battle. A sense of empowerment can be derived from the process as well as from being heard, or even from the freedom of expression.”

“Secondly, who knows? You may actually accomplish the impossible! Think only of reparations and an apology for Japanese Americans who were interned. Forty years after the infamous internment during World War II; through years of hearings, letter-writing campaigns, lobbying efforts, and personal testimony, the injustice in internment was recognized: Congress provided small compensation to survivors, and a formal apology by Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. White provides an example from Ghana where allies still come up with action strategies in spite of the impossible challenge of influencing the World Bank or IMF.”

“Yen took on these seemingly insurmountable odds, and perhaps this is his most important lesson for rebellious advocates. It should not be surprising that collaborative work can lead to difficult challenges. After all, this is about listening and learning from the community. This is a fight against subordination, against traditions, against the toughest borders. Yen was willing to fight for the education of 180,000 coolies in Europe, 400,000 peasants in Dingxian, and hundreds of villages, in addition to combating the effects of poverty and illiteracy on health, economics, and citizenship. Even before he moved to Dingxian in 1929, five million people were receiving instruction in the mass education programs he had championed. He was not afraid of these ‘impossible’ battles. He addressed the foundation of the country, aspiring to help China become strong, attempting to undo centuries of subordination. He advanced the revolutionary notion of opening schools to women. He also recognized that this was not simply about China:

‘I am afraid the moment the war is over and the pressure and tension are removed, [nations] will fall back again into their old grooves and think the same way and do everything the same way, each for himself and his own nation only, and in another twenty years we will commit again the same crime against humanity. Yet we must not think of nations as units–we must think really internationally of peoples. The world is the unit–any other planning is futile. Educating one people is so useless unless all are educated for a better life. . . . [T]here must be cooperation and collaboration throughout the world if the three-fourths of the world’s people are to be brought up to their proper level . . . so that all peoples are marching along together.’”

“Yen’s example also reminds us that collaborative advocacy is hard work. Besides his work in the classrooms, he was in homes and neighborhoods recruiting students and supporters, in universities and schools recruiting teachers, in various institutions recruiting allies, and in communities learning from the residents. He monitored the effectiveness of programs, conducted surveys to document the need for literacy in rural villages, and became a proficient, famed fundraiser. Yen’s recruits sacrificed financially, working for one-third of what they had been making even though some had large families to support; as such, Yen spent much of his time keeping their spirits up as well. Yen lived this work so long that it became his life.”

“Integrate and navigate many worlds: In López’s vision, lawyers must be skilled legal technicians and engaged public citizens and activists. They must expertly navigate and integrate many worlds: the legal, the interpersonal, the social, and the political. White also notes the importance for ‘political lawyers to leave the shelter of their offices and give up the false sense of control that goes with one-to-one client representation.’”

“Much of Yen’s success was due to his well-honed ability to navigate and integrate many different worlds. He was at home with peasants, school teachers, intellectuals, college presidents, public officials, political leaders, entrepreneurs, and the wealthy. He created new curricula by working with farmers and by integrating these disparate parties. He convinced them to learn from each other. They worked together and developed mutual respect. He convinced Henry Ford and the Rockefeller family to fund his efforts. He traveled to Hawaii and convinced teams to organize fundraising efforts to pay for educational programs; he solicited old friends and acquaintances from prestigious institutions. He impressed Supreme Court Justice William Douglas and author Pearl S. Buck. Indeed, Yen became a master in many different worlds as he combated subordination.”

“Yen’s lifelong commitment to the poor and the illiterate was not motivated by recognition or fortune; he partnered with countless individuals who were touched by his vision and advocacy in the struggle against subordination….”

“As rebellious, collaborative lawyers carrying on Yen’s legacy today, we must reflect conscientiously on what it means to be community lawyers–on whether our work is effective, on whether we ought to consider other collaborative strategies, on what events around us affect our clients and our work. Our work certainly involves the daily representation of clients, impact litigation, social mobilization, economic development, and community education; but it also entails stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. It is about recognizing the roots of subordination and finding creative ways to address it. It is about relating our local struggles to broader movements beyond our neighborhoods. At whichever level we engage–local, national, or international–we must maintain our belief that our day-in, day-out efforts can have lasting impacts.”

“Yen’s example is one for the ages of rebellious, collaborative advocates. His example was a model of dedication and hard work, humility, collaboration, respect for laborers and peasants and appreciation of their work, broadening of support networks, strategic innovation and flexibility, and courage in the face of immense challenges. His example inspires us to get back to the streets, roll up our sleeves, be creative, and fully engage in our community work.”






“By the early 1990s, parents who obtained legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”) organized press conferences, letter-writing, and petition drives targeting policy-makers who could address IRCA’s failure to provide legal status for their undocumented children who entered the country after 1988. Through intense community education, media work, and lobbying efforts, immigration officials promulgated a family fairness regulation that was eventually codified by Congress, thereby preventing the family separation that IRCA had failed to address. The immigrant parents group that led these efforts, El Comite de Padres Unidos, was formed with the assistance of a staff attorney from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (“ILRC”), who then developed an organizing and leadership training program for the parents. Padres Unidos has gone on to engage in a series of other campaigns. For example, members gathered more than 35,000 signatures to convince Congress to extend another immigration provision that would enable prospective immigrants to complete their immigration paperwork in the United States, without having to depart the country in fear of being excluded upon return.”

“Beginning in 2001, undocumented high school students from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sonoma County instituted a campaign on the implementation of a recently-enacted California law, Assembly Bill No. 540 (“AB 540”). The law enables undocumented students to avoid paying out-of-state tuition if they attend a California community college or a campus of the California State University system. The student campaign was part educational, to other students who might benefit, and part policy advocacy, to influence the Regents of the prestigious University of California system to adopt the same policy. Their letter-writing and testimonial campaign proved successful, and the Regents recognized that students who have graduated from California high schools should be able to pay in-state fees regardless of immigration status. The campaign organizers benefited by partnering with the ILRC to obtain advice and training on immigration law, lobbying guidance, and media strategy.”

“These civic engagement examples are the results of community lawyering or social change lawyering in which the staff of the ILRC has been engaged for almost thirty years. This client- and community-centered lawyering developed from the staff’s day-to-day experience with clients, families, and allies who demonstrated the talent, intelligence, and desire to engage in a collaborative approach to addressing the problems that they faced. Practicing in this collaborative or rebellious mode has become natural to the staff of the ILRC. The staff has come to realize that immigrant communities deserve our respect as trusted, competent partners.”

“Public interest lawyers and clinical law faculty are quite familiar with the strategies of rebellious or collaborative lawyering set forth forcefully by scholars such as Gerald López, Lucie White, and most recently, Ascanio Piomelli. Some of the principles include educating clients and communities to support resistance; opening ourselves to being educated by clients, communities, and allies; respecting and not subordinating our clients; collaborating with clients and allies; recognizing that collaborative advocacy can lead to extremely challenging battles; and understanding that the rebellious style involves integrating and navigating many worlds. These principles have been adopted by those aspiring to practice in a manner that not only seeks to make systemic changes on behalf of subordinated communities, but that also empowers clients themselves to seek social change on their own behalf.”

“The art of collaborative or rebellious lawyering generally is discussed, pondered, and understood in the context of direct services organizations or law offices, such as legal services offices, pro bono representation, law school clinical programs, or other law firms that may provide at least occasional services to low income or disadvantaged clients. However, the world of legal services to subordinated communities also includes support or backup centers that provide training, consultation, advice, and support to services providers at the frontlines, as well as educational outreach to low income communities. As this Article hopes to illustrate, the work of support and backup centers is quite conducive to practicing in the collaborative approach. And many of the practice examples described can, in fact, be incorporated into the day-to-day work of law school clinical programs and direct services law offices.”

“The work of one particular legal services support center, the ILRC, is of particular interest to me. The ILRC is the outgrowth of an immigration law clinic that I started in 1979, and the ILRC has endeavored to practice social change lawyering through a collaborative, rebellious style since its inception. Today, the ILRC’s national and California education, advocacy, and empowerment initiatives are organized in the following overlapping areas: (1) civic participation (engaging immigrants in the democratic process); (2) policy and advocacy (advocacy and educational initiatives with elected officials, federal, state, and local agencies, the media, and allies on policies that impact immigrants including immigration, access to public services, and economic justice concerns); and (3) technical assistance (providing expertise on immigration law and policy to legal services attorneys, pro bono attorneys, and community based organizations). While distinct, the areas overlap in the sense that the policy and advocacy work is advanced through the civic participation of immigrants, and technical assistance is accompanied with a call to practitioners to practice in a collaborative manner that seeks to empower immigrants.”

“The purpose of this Article is to provide a description and analysis of the ILRC’s work, with particular focus on its civic participation projects. While I provide a brief review of many ILRC programs, this Article more fully describes ILRC’s work to build capacity among immigrants and refugees and the organizations that serve them to enhance the engagement and influence of newcomers in American civic life. That work includes work with immigrant service organizations to develop and implement grassroots campaigns to improve immigration laws, and the development and promotion of new models of service that transfer knowledge, skills and power to immigrants. By focusing on civic participation examples, the Article describes projects that exemplify the program’s social change lawyering as it attempts to facilitate democratic participation by immigrants. In the process, methods are described in which ILRC staff attorneys go about doing this work in a rebellious, collaborative manner that simultaneously seeks to de-marginalize the individuals and groups with which they work. Thus, the aim of the Article is to provide an insight into how the organization has gone about doing its business in this area, in hopes of gleaning lessons and approaches that other legal services and law school clinical programs can find useful.”

“At the heart of the ILRC’s mission is the goal of making systemic changes. An important way of achieving this social change goal is the manner in which its staff attorneys do their work. That includes the many elements of rebellious, democratic lawyering attached to the literature of López, White, and Piomelli related to collaborating and thinking outside the box in working with clients.”

“The individual client advocacy program incorporates collaborative lawyering lessons to direct service providers, encouraging them to use a rebellious style of lawyering in their individual clients’ representation.”

“[I]n its rebellious, collaborative mode, the ILRC believes that national advocacy efforts should be guided by immigrants’ accounts of the effects of immigration policy on their lives and their communities.”

“The rebellious strategies of the ILRC represent the choice to practice collaboratively out of respect for and confidence in its working class immigrant client communities.”

“The individuals, families, and communities affected by these issues are looking for ways in which they can have a say on these issues. A rebellious approach to these challenges is capable of generating tremendous participation by those concerned. The question is not whether the interest and talent exists in the community to take part in these movements; the question is whether those of us in clinics and progressive legal services programs have the will, imagination, and faith in ourselves and our clients to take the collaborative route.”

“The immigrant civic participation programs of the ILRC have been developed and implemented in a manner that fulfills much of the spirit and aspirations of rebellious, collaborative lawyering. The ILRC’s teaching of immigration law and procedure to immigrant groups, its leadership training programs, its capacity-building of grassroots groups, and its media-training for students and residents are all about educating clients and communities to support resistance. As Jerry López points out, the goal of community education is more than the transmission of information about legal rights or benefit eligibility rules. Wherever groups of lower-income people meet or can be brought together, López sees opportunities for rebellious advocates to nurture and further their resistance to social, political, and economic subordination by ‘train[ing] groups of subordinated people to represent themselves and others,’ an activity he calls ‘teaching self-help and lay lawyering.’ The ILRC’s collaboration with grassroots community groups, community-based organizations, pro bono lawyers, the media, and even government agencies exemplifies the concept of collaboration with allies that is central to rebellious lawyering. López calls for a collaboration of ‘co-eminent’ practitioners, by whom he means lawyers, clients, and other potential problem solvers such as community activists, organizers, media, administrators, policy-makers, researchers, and funders. Through such action and reflection, Lucie White notes that poor people and their lawyer-allies voice aspirations, identify concrete action strategies, and discover grounds for political unity. Asconio Piomelli refers to this as a joint problem-solving partnership with clients; attorneys do not simply work for clients, but with clients and with their lay allies. In short, the ILRC attempts to look outside the box in its approach to social change lawyering involving challenges–such as trying to impact immigration policy–that are daunting.”

“In the words of López, rebellious lawyering involves a ‘fight against subordination through a different understanding of lawyering’ that may need to understand the ‘politics of multinational decision-making.’ To Piomelli, this work ‘requires a thorough reorientation of almost every aspect of traditional legal practice.’ And to White, such lawyering challenges ‘the guarded borders of the lawyer’s traditional role,’ and those involved in such advocacy, will find themselves in battles with seemingly insurmountable odds. Indeed, fighting for immigrant rights in this day and age is quite challenging, yet the ILRC finds the task more worthwhile when taken on in partnership with the community.”

“Legal services organizations and law school clinical programs that engage in more than direct, individual client representation and incorporate community education or collaboration with client groups and their allies are well positioned to use rebellious, collaborative lawyering techniques described in this Article. Our clients, their neighbors, and their allies are capable and ready to join the bigger struggle with standard tools, new approaches, and creative ideas that we can help develop and implement together. The ILRC has demonstrated that.”



Bill Ong Hing, THE GREAT OPPORTUNITY IN LAW, 15 Asian Pac. Am. L.J. (2009-2010)



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