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Rebellious Lawyering, A Historical Context


Clarence DarrowAnthony Burnsreblaw_thumbnailThomas Pearce


In 2014, the Yale Law School’s Rare Book Collection hosted an exhibition called “350 Years of Rebellious Lawyering.”

This show commemorated 20 years of RebLaw, or Rebellious Lawyering law student conferences that have been organized and held “in the spirit of…Gerald P. López’s Rebellious Lawyering: One Chicano’s Vision of Progressive Law Practice (1992).”


The below are courtesy of Mike Widener’s excellent webpage on “350 Years of Rebellious Lawyering”: view the full website here.


Thomas Pearce


Thomas Pearce. The poor man’s lawyer, or, Laws relating to the inferior courts laid open. London, 1755.

“Therefore Gaolers are the Oppressors of the People; and their Fees are Extortion; and that Thief-Catchers, Hussars and Pandours, are a Confederacy of wicked People, chiefly designed to entrap poor unwary People; and are the chief Causes of Hurrying poor abandoned Wretches into their Wiles and Contrivances.” – page 71.


Anthony Burns

Boston slave riot, and trial of Anthony Burns. Boston, 1854.

“The trial and rendition of Anthony Burns was one of the most dramatic and famous incidents in the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act” (Finkelman, Slavery in the Courtroom). Several of Boston’s leading lawyers, including Richard Henry Dana, argued unsuccessfully for Burns’ release. After a disastrous attempt to rescue Burns, he was sent back to slavery under heavy military guard.


Clarence Darrow

Argument of Clarence Darrow in the case of the Communist Labor Party in the Criminal Court, Chicago. Chicago, 1920.

“I am interested in the verdict of this jury as to whether this country shall be ruled by the conscienceless men who would stifle freedom of speech when it interferes with their gold; or whether this jury will stand by the principles of the fathers and, whether so far as you can, you will stop this mad wave that threatens to engulf the liberty of the American citizens.”




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