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Saul Alinksy, community lawyering, social justice education, democracy


This Article examines the import of the life’s work of Saul Alinsky—arguably the most prominent founder of contemporary organizing—to the content and methodologies of today’s legal education. I review the community organizing theory and practice of Saul Alinsky for its synergies and lessons on two approaches by legal theorists and educators working in law schools today — “community lawyering” and “social justice”education. These approaches embrace the special responsibility of the legal profession for the quality of justice in society[1] by extending the traditional conceptions of lawyers’ relationships with clients in ways that are informed by the insights of community organizers, such as Alinsky. Rather than “justice” or the confrontation so often associated with the Industrial Areas Foundation (the “IAF”), Alinsky’s true touchstone was democratic participation. The quality of democracy is everybody’s business; and more to the point of this Article, democracy is not the central concern of the legal academy. Alinsky’s prescription for his country was that we practice democracy seriously. His democratic vision turned on his faith in the potential of ordinary people to partake in democratic practices of inclusion, information sharing, deliberation, collective assessment, strategy, joint action, and mutual accountability. the several strands of rebellious lawyering, cause lawyering, community lawyering, and mobilization lawyering join to form an emerging practice of “lawyering for democracy,” as co-citizens. This frame shapes the relationships of lawyer and community, and of law and organizing, as to the ends and means of the collaborative work and of the agency of the participants in that work. To lawyers working within this frame, clients are active partners in working to solve their problems. These lawyers work alongside clients— individuals, organized groups, and informal associations—and the allies they enlist, in multidimensional efforts to advocate for justice.


Legal Education