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Redefining Human Rights Lawyering Through the Lens of Critical Theory: Lessons for Pedagogy and Practice

63 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2011 Last revised: 12 Jul 2013

Caroline Bettinger-Lopez

University of Miami - School of Law

Davida Finger

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Meetali Jain

University of Cape Town (UCT) - Faculty of Law

JoNel Newman

University of Miami - School of Law

Sarah Paoletti

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Deborah M. Weissman

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: February 23, 2011

Abstract

In recent years, human rights law clinics have mushroomed across the United States, specializing in work ranging from direct representation of asylum seekers in U.S. courts, to international litigation, to project-based advocacy of conducting fact-finding missions and producing reports documenting human rights violations throughout the world. At the same time, domestic poverty law clinics are increasingly framing some of their advocacy, which often takes the forms of direct legal services, community lawyering, and law reform, in terms of human rights.

Critiques of international human rights lawyering often point to the imperialist narratives and victim essentializing that are often perpetuated in human rights lawyering. These critiques may apply with equal force to the international and domestic human rights arenas, including to the direct representation of vulnerable individuals experiencing human rights violations. Human rights clinical law professors often struggle alongside students to develop lawyering strategies and approaches that are responsive to those critiques yet still are effective in achieving the goals of clients - be they individuals, groups, or organizations.

While these ethical, strategic, and pedagogic challenges may be novel for human rights clinicians, they are familiar terrain for many poverty lawyers who have long-struggled with similar challenges in the context of direct representation of poor, marginalized clients and engagement in law reform and impact advocacy efforts. Clinicians in other areas of social justice lawyering, particularly those working in the poverty law arena, have developed a rich body of scholarship in this area that has itself been influenced by the corpus of critical legal and social theory.

As human rights and poverty law clinicians, we initially presented the core themes addressed in this article during a workshop we collectively led at the 2010 AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education. Here, we seek to further develop these themes. We review the ways in which critical theory has been introduced to address these vexing questions concerning victim essentialization and othering in poverty and community development law clinics in the U.S., and then explore strategies for redefining human rights lawyering in a way that is responsive to critical theorists and that informs and expands our teaching, our advocacy, and our students' sense of what it means to be a human rights lawyer. In the process, we explore the changing role that human rights law and advocacy has come to play in social justice initiatives in the U.S.

Suggested Citation

Bettinger-Lopez, Caroline and Finger, Davida and Jain, Meetali and Newman, JoNel and Paoletti, Sarah and Weissman, Deborah M., Redefining Human Rights Lawyering Through the Lens of Critical Theory: Lessons for Pedagogy and Practice (February 23, 2011). Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy, Vol. 18, 2011; University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-08; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-09; UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1768167; Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Research Paper No. 2011-09; NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1768167

Caroline Bettinger-Lopez (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States
305-284-5923 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.miami.edu/facadmin/cbettinger-lopez.php

Davida Finger

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law ( email )

7214 St. Charles Ave., Box 901
Campus Box 901
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
504-861-5596 (Phone)

Meetali Jain

University of Cape Town (UCT) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Private Bag
Rondebosch 7701
South Africa

JoNel Newman

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States
305-284-4125 (Phone)
305-284-6407 (Fax)

Sarah Paoletti

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.upenn.edu/cf/faculty/paoletti/

Deborah M. Weissman

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-5108 (Phone)
919-962-1277 (Fax)

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