Representing Children, Representing What?: Critical Reflections on Lawyering for Children

66 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2008

See all articles by Annette Ruth Appell

Annette Ruth Appell

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: August 16, 2008


This article sets forth some critical observations about the role of children's attorneys in reinforcing and challenging sociolegal norms, particularly those norms that are not child-driven or child-centered. More concretely, it critically explores the role of children's lawyers in promoting the individual and systemic interests of their youthful constituents, most of whom receive lawyers because they are caught in systems that predominately serve poor children and children of color. The article first reflects on the indeterminacy and contingency of the category of children, checking our natural tendencies to idealize children and childhood. The second section describes the children's bar, examining its legalistic approach to children's problems and their solutions, which contemplate children in isolation from their families and communities. The third section notes the decline in children's well-being, despite the growth of a children's bar, and sketches five thematic observations that might account for this anomaly and raise questions regarding the utility of children's lawyers and the roles that they might occupy. These observations relate to the multiple gulfs between children and attorneys, and the limitations of rights-based advocacy, particularly for clients who do not have the authority to define justice in their own terms. The final section explores how children's attorneys are beginning to critically assess their dominance and their approaches to the legal representation of children, and to develop methods to ensure that the child's viewpoint is expressed.

Keywords: children, family, justice, race, lawyers, norms

JEL Classification: D63, 131

Suggested Citation

Appell, Annette Ruth, Representing Children, Representing What?: Critical Reflections on Lawyering for Children (August 16, 2008). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 39, 2008; NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 09/10 #29. Available at SSRN:

Annette Ruth Appell (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-935-7912 (Phone)

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