More Than One Lane Wide: Against Hierarchies of Helping in Progressive Legal Advocacy

58 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2012 Last revised: 1 Nov 2019

See all articles by Rebecca Sharpless

Rebecca Sharpless

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2012


Progressive legal scholars and practitioners have created a hierarchy within social justice lawyering. Direct service attorneys — nonprofit attorneys who focus on helping individuals in civil cases — sit at the bottom. In the 1960s, progressive theorists advanced a negative portrayal of direct service attorneys as a class. This discourse has continued through different phases in the development of progressive legal theory. Direct service work is done primarily by women in the service of women, has the aesthetic of traditional women’s work, and can be understood as embodying the thesis that women have a greater existential and psychological connection to others than men. Like other forms of women’s work, direct service work often goes unrecognized even though more visible progressive work depends on it. Negative portrayals of direct service attorneys employ a strategy of oppositional definition that is representative of binary male thinking and deny a positive view of direct service work as life-sustaining service to others. This article discusses the harms perpetuated by hierarchies of helping and sketches a more inclusive vision of progressive lawyering.

Keywords: justice, social justice, lawyering, critical, theory, feminism, feminist, women, direct service, theoretics, public interest, nonprofit, hierarchy

Suggested Citation

Sharpless, Rebecca A., More Than One Lane Wide: Against Hierarchies of Helping in Progressive Legal Advocacy (March 1, 2012). Clinical Law Review, Fall 2012 , University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-13, Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca A. Sharpless (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

1311 Miller Drive
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

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