Social Justice Advocacy and Innovation: The Wisconsin Center for Public Representation 1974-Present
25 Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy (2) pp.221-255 (2018)
36 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 13, 2018
Social justice practice is undergoing a revival. In a period of renewed energy we often look forward. But careful study of the existing structure and paths taken in the past is essential for successful initiatives. The history of the Center for Public Representation (CPR), a mid-western public interest law firm founded in 1974, contributes to the study. The CPR experience offers numerous lessons for those who seek to reinvent social justice lawyering: the importance of experimentation, the need for coordination of the local and national, and recognition of the potential law schools can play in the revival. The 40-year history was driven by a mixture of local politics and legal culture, individual passion and energy, and national movements and resources. There is continuity but it is possible to show three distinct periods in the life of the firm. The founding moment took place from 1974-84. The founders chose a non-profit tax-exempt format that was a hybrid of a free-standing public interest law firm and a University of Wisconsin law school clinic. With long-term funding unavailable, CPR developed innovative funding strategies and explored multiple arenas and modalities. The second moment embraces the late 1980s and 90s. CPR paid more attention to poverty and opened a community law office while the school added a course on poverty law. The state of Wisconsin privatized some health and welfare services forcing the lawyers and students to develop new ways to voice the concerns of the affected people. The CPR hybrid was under stress as support for clinics grew and for public interest law waned. In the third moment, 2002-present, CPR reinvented itself as the Economic Justice Center (EJC). The redesign was prompted by financial difficulties, shifts in legal and political atmosphere, and the success of clinical teaching. The free-standing public interest law firm was cut back. The history highlights the choices facing today's practitioners; how to develop long-term strategies, initiate networks and scale up practices, utilize law school resources, and exploit available technology.
Keywords: Legal Profession, Public Interest Law, Social Justice, Legal Education, Social Movements, Access to Justice, Feminism,Technology and Law, Federalism, Health Law
JEL Classification: K32: Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
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