Lawyers, Loyalty and Social Change

43 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2011

See all articles by Deborah Cantrell

Deborah Cantrell

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: December, 20 2011


Fundamentally, cause lawyers engage in their work to make social change. Scholars of cause lawyering have generated a robust and rich literature considering important issues such as what kinds of advocacy strategies best generate social change and what features of the relationship between cause client and cause lawyer are critical to an engaged and mutual relationship. But, the literature has neglected a key aspect of the cause lawyer-cause client relationship – whether the particular kind of loyalty that exists as between them hinders or helps in achieving social change. This Article fills that void. It first illuminates the particular features of the kind of loyalty that is expected to be shown between cause lawyers and cause clients, including features such as a mutually engaged relationship and a strict conception of friends and enemies. Labeling that loyalty as “hyper-loyalty,” the Article scrutinizes whether the extreme fidelity required by hyper-loyalty helps produce actual social change. Drawing on multiple fields, including negotiation and cognitive psychology, the Article demonstrates that hyper-loyalty impedes social change by limiting the range of relationships that can be explored as sites for problem-solving. The Article offers a way forward, suggesting that hyper-loyalty be replaced by relational loyalty. The three key features of relational loyalty are constructing the architecture of social change so that it is a connected web of relationships instead of dyadic and oppositional, approaching that web of relationships with curiosity instead of advocacy, and responding with compassion to all contained in the web of relationships. The Article argues that relational loyalty inculcates a helpful dynamism in relationships, which both preserves mutual engagement between cause lawyer and cause client, while also creating unexpected opportunities to craft innovative strategies or pathways to social change.

Keywords: lawyers, loyalty, social change, lawyers and social movements

Suggested Citation

Cantrell, Deborah, Lawyers, Loyalty and Social Change (December, 20 2011). Denver University Law Review, 2012, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN:

Deborah Cantrell (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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