A Look Back and a Path Forward: Reflections on Six Months of Progressive Lawyer

The Author
The Author

On October 6th, 2014 I launched Progressive Lawyer, a 100% solar-powered website designed to connect lawyers and law students with social justice organizations and law firms involved in social justice work. As this is roughly the sixth month anniversary of its launch, I would like to briefly discuss why the site was created, what has been achieved so far, and what plans I have going forward. And as will become clear, the most exciting thing is that it is not just me involved with Progressive Lawyer any more. There are now some talented and inspirational people involved with the site, and I will introduce them here and discuss how you can get involved. But first, let me go back to the “why” behind Progressive Lawyer.

Like many law school graduates, for a variety of reasons I am not actively practising law. The path I took was perhaps as much a reaction to the area of law I found myself in (personal injury litigation) as to what law school inflicted on me, but needless to say I am not alone. According to the latest statistics from the American Bar Association, only 62.2% of the Class of 2013 were employed in a position that required passage of a Bar exam, and the legal job market is sluggish and has been for awhile.

But that is not why I left the law.

I left the law because I found it difficult to find a position that matched my values, that gave me a reason why being a lawyer was such a noble profession. In fact I forgot why I went to law school, and by the end of my articles (a form of mandatory internship here in Canada} I wanted nothing to do with the law.

As I went through my post-law school career I didn’t think much about it, but as I got older, the constant attacks on the profession – some justified but many not – started to gnaw on me. Not all lawyers are “money-grubbing ambulance chasers,” I would patiently explain to friends and colleagues. There are incredible lawyers doing incredible work out there. “Prove it” would come the response. And so I set out to show people that not all lawyers are the ugly stereotype.

I started reading about social justice lawyers and social justice lawyering, and started thinking about how I could contribute, could give back something to a profession I had essentially walked away from. It was through this research that I came across an article that was to directly kickstart Progressive Lawyer. The article was titled “Letter To A Law Student Interested in Social Justice,” by William P. Quigley, a law professor and Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans. In my opinion? It should be required reading to any law student and lawyer practising today. I encourage you to read it, but in essence it describes how the practice of social justice law is difficult, frustrating and often not very glamorous but at the same time is perhaps the most rewarding possible way to use your law degree.

And I was inspired.

The purpose behind Progressive Lawyer is to connect lawyers and law students to social justice organizations and law firms practising social justice work.

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At the Vanguard of Progressive Law: The National Lawyers Guild

NLG_logo copyFormed in 1937, The National Lawyers Guild has truly been at the forefront of progressive law since their inception both in the United States and around the world. As an alternative to the American Bar Association and as the first racially integrated bar association, the NLG has managed to both stay true to their ideals and to maintain their activist roots despite the trials and tribulations they have had to endure. Progressive Lawyer talked with Azadeh Shahshahani, the president of the NLG on what they do and why. Azadeh is a 2004 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, where she served as article editor for the Michigan Journal of International Law. Also while in law school, Azadeh completed a fellowship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Washington, DC.

Progressive Lawyer: Hello! Please introduce yourself and describe your role in the National Lawyers Guild.

Azadeh Shahshahani: My name is Azadeh Shahshahani and I serve as President of the National Lawyers Guild.

PL: Why was the National Lawyers Guild  started? What issues does it confront? Touch on some of the rich history of the NLG.

AS: The National Lawyers Guild was established in 1937 as the first racially integrated bar association by progressive lawyers and jurists who believed that they had a major role to play in the reconstruction of legal values to emphasize human rights over property rights. The Guild is the oldest and most extensive network of public interest and human rights activists working within the legal system. For more, I would encourage you to check out the historical timeline on the NLG website which provides a snapshot of our rich history: http://www.nlg.org/about/history/anniversary

PL: What services does NLG offer? Who are its primary clients/audience?

AS: Our different committees, task forces, projects, and caucuses offer different services depending on their focus. For example, the Military Law Task Force provides legal support and advice to service members including conscientious objectors. The National Immigration Project brings lawsuits to defend immigrants’ rights and provides cutting-edge training to attorneys. The International Committee sends delegations to countries in which the US has had a destructive role through its foreign policy and attempts to hold the US government accountable for lending support to dictatorial regimes and attempting to destabilize governments with a leftist bent. The underlying focus of all NLG constituencies however is to provide support to social justice movements and to individuals and communities under attack.  The full listing of our committees is here: http://www.nlg.org/committee.

Also, we have a referral directory here: https://www.nlg.org/referral-directory

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