The Challenge of Democratic Lawyering

27 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2009

See all articles by Ascanio Piomelli

Ascanio Piomelli

University of California Hastings College of the Law


This essay, written for the Fordham Law Review's symposium on The Lawyer's Role in a Contemporary Democracy, argues that a diverse movement of social-change lawyering that has emerged over the past two decades is united by a commitment to fostering robust democratic participation in collective action by low-income and working-class people and people of color. The essay describes the democratic vision that unites these lawyers, with its focus on enhancing ordinary citizens' abilities to act in concert with others in self-government broadly construed. This vision challenges the long-prevailing, thinner conception, which limits democracy to a political process that provides a say in selecting one's representatives and an incentive structure to encourage representatives to act wisely. This essay argues that these democratic lawyers and their partners challenge deep-seated individualistic, aristocratic, and formalistic cultural predispositions in the United States and its legal profession. These prevailing - but contested - predispositions relate to: what democracy means and how we practice it; how we understand individuals and groups, intelligence and expertise; and the relative importance we place on formal rights or on the power of people and groups to change their living conditions.

Suggested Citation

Piomelli, Ascanio, The Challenge of Democratic Lawyering. Fordham Law Review, Vol. 77, p. 1383, 2009, NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 08/09 #17, Available at SSRN:

Ascanio Piomelli (Contact Author)

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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