Cause Lawyers Inside the State

56 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2012 Last revised: 11 May 2013

Date Written: 2012


Scholarship on the legal profession tends to situate cause lawyers in a state of adversarial tension with government lawyers. In this conventional account, cause lawyers challenge the agenda of government attorneys, who represent institutional interests and the status quo. From this oppositional perspective, socio-legal scholars explore the activity of lawyers working at public-interest law firms, for general social movement organizations, and in private practice. For some time, however, cause lawyers have moved in and out of government, thus complicating the traditional picture of lawyer-state opposition. This Article aims to identify and understand the significant role that cause lawyers play inside the state. It does so by drawing on recent social movement scholarship exploring the overlapping and interdependent relationship between movements and the state. Ultimately, this Article identifies four key impacts that cause lawyers within the state may produce: (1) reforming the state itself; (2) shaping state personnel and priorities; (3) harnessing state power to advance shared movement-state goals; and (4) facilitating and mediating relationships between the movement and the state. These productive functions, however, also come with significant limitations. By appealing to governmental authority and involving the state as a pro-movement force, cause lawyers in government positions may channel movement activity toward moderate goals and into institutional, state-centered tactics. Accordingly, this Article explores not only the benefits but also the costs of cause lawyer movement in and out of the state.

Keywords: cause lawyers, legal profession, social movements, government lawyers

Suggested Citation

NeJaime, Douglas, Cause Lawyers Inside the State (2012). 81 Fordham Law Review 649 (2012), Loyola-LA Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-35, Available at SSRN:

Douglas NeJaime (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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