Appreciating Collaborative Lawyering

Clinical Law Review Vol. 6, No. 427, 2000

NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 07/08-19

90 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2007


Collaborative lawyering (also known as "rebellious" or "community" lawyering) is an approach to social-change lawyering that emerged in the late 1980's and 1990's to urge lawyers representing lower-income clients and communities to more actively work with, rather than just for, their clients (and other non-lawyer allies) in joint efforts to make social change. Several critics have chided this approach for what they characterize as its postmodernist-inspired excessive focus on the micro-dynamics of the attorney-client relationship, which they argue makes collaborative lawyers inattentive to and ill-equipped to challenge the institutional and structural conditions in which their clients live.

This article aims to show that the critics fail to read the extensive literature carefully and thus lump together independent and sometimes disparate thinkers. The critics, it argues, fail to appreciate and thus dismiss prematurely the extensive attention that collaborative lawyers direct outside the attorney-client relationship, as well as the activist democratic vision of social change that underlies the approach. The article carefully considers each of the critics and assesses the applicability of their criticisms to each of the main exponents of collaborative lawyering. It synthesizes, critiques, and identifies previously ignored differences between these works.

The article grounds its analysis in an exploration of a struggle over the packing of the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Board. In so doing, it elaborates two elements of collaborative lawyering that neither the critics nor proponents have fully explored: the meaning of contextualized problem-solving and the importance of monitoring the ways that law and lawyers often transform disputes. It thereby illustrates how collaboration with clients does attend to and can alter institutional and structural power.

Suggested Citation

Piomelli, Ascanio, Appreciating Collaborative Lawyering. Clinical Law Review Vol. 6, No. 427, 2000, NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 07/08-19 , Available at SSRN:

Ascanio Piomelli (Contact Author)

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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