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

44 Pages Posted: 3 May 2010 Last revised: 14 Dec 2012

See all articles by Nisha Agarwal

Nisha Agarwal

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Jocelyn Simonson

Brooklyn Law School

Date Written: April 29, 2010


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.

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

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:

Nisha Agarwal

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Jocelyn Simonson (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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