Public Interest Lawyers and Resistance Movements

49 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2007 Last revised: 6 Feb 2008

See all articles by Sameer M. Ashar

Sameer M. Ashar

University of California, Irvine School of Law


A major strand of social justice activism, both within and outside the United States, finds purpose in opposition to the economic, political, and social conditions of globalization and neoliberalism. In the course of these campaigns, sometimes targeting the state and at other times powerful private entities, these numerous, loosely-linked movements of resistance both confront and creatively make use of legal structures, including courts, elected officials, and regulatory agencies. The adversarial campaign for immigrant workers in New York against a corporate chain of high-end restaurants that is the subject of this article began in August 2003 and lasted eighteen months. It included a range of legal and extralegal pressure tactics initiated by both sides, including direct action protests, attempts to influence customers, elected officials, and funders, lawsuits in state and federal court, and charges before the National Labor Relations Board. It ended with the negotiation of a comprehensive settlement agreement between the worker-members of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), a worker center based in Manhattan, and the corporation. This article will focus on the role of the lawyers and law students in the campaign and notes significant discontinuities from past public interest practice, including revised thinking on the accountability of lawyers to clients and the use of rights and rights-talk in adversarial campaigns. Additionally, this article focuses on the role of lawyers in relation to social movements, as intermediaries with the state and agents of cross-racial and globalized resistance movements.

Keywords: Public Interest Law, Law and Organizing, Social Movements, Worker Centers, Immigrants Rights, Immigration Law, Labor and Employment Law

Suggested Citation

Ashar, Sameer M., Public Interest Lawyers and Resistance Movements. California Law Review, Vol. 95, p. 1879, 2007, NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 07/08-10, Available at SSRN:

Sameer M. Ashar (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

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