Attorney as Accompagnateur: Resilient Lawyering When Victory Is Uncertain or Nearly Impossible
60 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2019
Date Written: December 31, 2018
Social justice lawyers come to the profession intending to make a difference through the instruments of law. And gloriously, they often make a difference in people’s lives for the better. They make our world a more just, compassionate, and tolerant place. But there is no denying that, in poverty law practice, legal success can be elusive, ephemeral, or perhaps a mirage. How does that lawyer feel when the legal remedies at her disposal, even if “successful,” fail to mitigate the injustices suffered by her clients? Are there definitions of professional satisfaction and success that are enduring, even if legal success or social justice is not attainable?
This article comprises a set of essays that explore the lawyer’s capacity to persevere in the face of legal loss that is so regular that pessimism, indifference, and exhaustion set in. Our quest is to describe the contours of a lawyer’s role that gives the poverty lawyer professional identity and purpose, despite repeated loss. That role is the accompagnateur.
Paul Farmer, a physician and public health activist, coined the terms accompaniment and accompagnateur. In a 2011 commencement address at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University,Farmer articulated the role of accompagnateur for health relief workers:
To accompany someone is to go somewhere with him or her, to break bread together, to be present on a journey with a beginning and an end. ... [W]e’re not sure exactly where the beginning might be, and we’re almost never sure about the end. There’s an element of mystery, of openness, in accompaniment: I’ll go with you and support you on your journey wherever it leads. I’ll keep you company and share your fate for a while. And by “a while,” I don’t mean a little while. Accompaniment is much more often about sticking with a task until it’s deemed completed by the person or people being accompanied, rather than by the accompagnateurs.
Farmer’s vision has resonance with lawyers in social justice and personal strife practices. The authors draw on that inspiration, but adapt it to legal services.
Keywords: Accompaniment, mindfulness, meditation, medical-legal partnership, poverty law, law clinic
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