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.

How? Well the site needs to be:

Inspirational: Progressive Lawyer needs to shine a well deserved spotlight on organizations, law firms and lawyers doing incredible social justice lawyering. In the last six months we have featured a number of incredible organizations doing just that. From the Appleseed Network, to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; from pioneering women’s rights group West Coast LEAF, to the Electronic Frontier Foundation; from environmental law group EarthJustice to veteran human rights organization Amnesty International, we have featured an amazing variety of incredibly inspirational social justice organizations. These organizations are active in the field that is social justice, from access to justice, animal law, consumer rights, criminal law, digital rights, drug law, environmental law, freedom of expression issues, human rights, international law, labour law, LGBT rights, women’s rights, Pro Bono, refugee law and social justice to name just a few.

Useful: Beyond being inspirational, the site must be useful for people who actually want to practice in the field of social justice. So within each of our spotlights we ask the lawyers we have interviewed how they have become involved in the law they are doing and what advice they may have for law students and lawyers breaking into this type of law. We also always include links to the organizations as well as to their employment and internship pages to make it easier for those wanting to make a difference to actually be able to make a difference. In addition we feature an ever growing events page full of seminars, conferences, panel discussions and educational opportunities covering social justice issues that our readers will find both interesting and educational. For the future we have more plans to increase the usefulness of the site, more of which I will discuss later.

Visible: An inspirational and useful site is all well and good but if nobody knows about it the point is moot. While I consider the first six months more of a soft launch, the site has grown organically every week and while this is exciting, the plan is to step it up going forward. We want the site to be known by as many people in the social justice community as possible and we absolutely intend to increase our visibility within the global (yes I said global!) law school community. The intention is for Progressive Lawyer to be a hub for social justice lawyering and we have a number of ideas to help us get there.

Sustainable: This site is a labour of love but at some point it must be able to sustain itself on its own. We are mulling over a number of ideas to ensure that the site continues to grow and thrive and exist as an entity on its own beyond that of the people who may be currently involved in it. Whether this takes the form of a non-profit, a B Corporation or some yet to be defined structure, Progressive Lawyer will need to be nourished and grown by its community of stakeholders in order for it to thrive and continue to make a difference.

So what of the future, what do we have in the pipeline for Progressive Lawyer going forward?

ICON-ONLY_high_RGBWell to begin with, as I mentioned Progressive Lawyer is no longer just me. I have been joined by two incredibly passionate people who share the same vision as I and who are excited to help me grow Progressive Lawyer to realize its potential.

From my home province of Quebec, Canada Marjorie Langlois has joined the site and has already contributed her feature on Avocats Sans Frontieres Canada (both in English and French), with more in the works. Marjorie is a graduate of Université de Sherbrooke’s Law Faculty and is currently studying for her Master’s in International Law at Université Laval. With her recent experiences working as an intern with an NGO in Malaysia, Marjorie understands both the trials and tribulations of building a career in social justice and her contributions are both welcome and exciting. She will also help the site reach out to the francophone legal community both in Quebec and around the French speaking world by featuring more French content and actively engaging with that community.

Heather Nann joins us from the American state of Connecticut and is an experienced and respected journalist and writer who specializes in justice and public service. As editor in chief of the site, Heather has already made a huge contribution to both the form and accuracy of our features and is helping us develop a style guide to be used by all contributors. An award winner from the Society of Professional Journalists and a Fellow at the Metcalfe Institute of Marine & Environmental Reporting at the University of Rhode Island, and the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources, Heather’s professionalism and expertise are gratefully appreciated and much needed as we move forward.

And we have already begun, or are about to begin a number of new initiatives. The first is our “On Closer Look” series, which will feature both legal analysis of a major social justice issue, as well as a deeper look into the context of an issue beyond the legalistic roots.

Our first example was recently published on the Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court by Luigi Prosperi, post-doctoral fellow at Political Science Department of Sapienza University of Rome and the second was on the issue of the decriminalization of sex work in Canada, an issue very much in the news and misunderstood.

The second is our “Why I Do What I Do” series, which will feature interviews with prominent social justice lawyers as they discuss their motivations for practising social justice law and their advice for aspiring and current lawyers.

In addition to these two new series we will be starting a regular feature on the use of film to inspire social justice. This is something I am very excited about as sometimes all it takes is a powerful film to put into context an issue that sometimes may get lost amongst our normal propensity to see things through a narrowly focused legal world view. More details on this will come in a few months.

Finally, we will be launching a job board. This will not be your typical legal job board though. This will focus on the social justice issues and the organizations and firms active within these issues mentioned above. Part of what I realized in starting Progressive Lawyer is that finding information on career opportunities and internships is incredibly frustrating. While there are some excellent resources out there, there is no one site that ties things together and it is my hope that this job board (or career center as I prefer to refer to it) will allow law students and lawyers a user friendly and effective way to build their careers. Again, look for more details to be revealed in the coming months.

So there you have it! The last six months have been incredibly rewarding for me on a personal level as the people I have met since I started on this journey have both inspired and humbled me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Their dedication, courage and positivity in what often times seems like bleak situations are a testament both to themselves as people and to their belief in the power of the law as a means to achieve true justice. I tip my digital cap to all of you and thank you for what you have done and what you continue to do. I look forward to shining the spotlight on your work and giving you the recognition you do not ask for but so much deserve.

If you are interested in contributing to Progressive Lawyer you are always more than welcome. Whether as a writer, web developer, marketing guru or director of a social justice organization who would like to be profiled or has an event of interest or as a member of a law firm active in social justice work, please contact us here and let us know how you would like to contribute. Together we can help build a more just, honest and better world through the power and promise of the law. I look forward to continuing the journey with you all.

Peace

Mark

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