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Thinking Like a Public Interest Lawyer: Theory, Practice and Pedagogy


Nisha Agarwal


New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Harvard University - Program for Legal Profession

Jocelyn Simonson


New York University School of Law

April 29, 2010

New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 34, p. 455, 2010

Abstract:     
In educating future public interest lawyers, law schools must cultivate in students the combination of intellectual, emotional, and normative thinking required for the complex world of practice. This article presents one such method for teaching critical public interest lawyering: the integration of social theory and public interest practice introduced by the Harvard Law School Summer Theory Institute. The theory-practice method of the Institute, in which law students engage with social theories while participating in full-time summer internships with public interest organizations, demonstrates the benefits of creating a space for students to draw connections between abstract conceptions of justice and on-the-ground efforts to lawyer for social change. This article begins by using the theories of Pierre Bourdieu to explore a dichotomy between theory and practice in public interest law that can often inhibit efforts to pursue social justice lawyering. Then, drawing upon the discussions the Summer Theory Institute’s students had about three theorists – Michel Foucault, Friedrich Hayek, and David Couzens Hoy – this article demonstrates how theoretical reflection placed in the practice setting can cultivate in law students the kind of normative thinking necessary to make them inspired, self-reflective, and critically engaged public interest lawyers and agents of social change.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: Legal Education, Law and Social Change, Public Interest Lawyering, Carnegie Report, Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Friedrich Hayek

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Date posted: May 3, 2010 ; Last revised: December 14, 2012

Suggested Citation

Agarwal, Nisha and Simonson, Jocelyn, Thinking Like a Public Interest Lawyer: Theory, Practice and Pedagogy (April 29, 2010). New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 34, p. 455, 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1597964

Contact Information

Nisha Agarwal
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest ( email )
151 W 30th Street
11th Floor
New York, NY 10001
United States
Harvard University - Program for Legal Profession ( email )
23 Everett Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Jocelyn Simonson (Contact Author)
New York University School of Law ( email )
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
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