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The Internationalization of Public Interest Law

146 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2006 Last revised: 3 Feb 2011

Scott L. Cummings

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


This Article is an account of profound changes in the organization and practice of public interest law that have emerged over the past 25 years against the backdrop of globalization. Its central claim is that as the United States has become more globally interdependent, the institutional context of public interest law has been transformed, elevating transnational mobility as a basic feature of legal practice. The Article specifically examines three vectors of global change that have reshaped the terrain of US public interest law: the increasing magnitude and scope of undocumented immigration; the growth of free trade and its governing institutions; and the heightened political influence of human rights. It suggests that each of these trends has contributed to important institutional revisions within the US public interest system: the rise of immigrant rights as a distinctive category of public interest practice; the emergence of transnational advocacy as a response to the impact of US economic policy abroad; and the movement to promote domestic human rights, both as a way to resist the deregulatory thrust of market integration at home and to defend civil rights and civil liberties in the face of domestic conservatism and the War on Terror. After mapping the institutional scope and density of these changes, the Article appraises their influence on the goals public interest lawyers pursue, the tactics they deploy, and the professional roles they assume in the modern era.

Keywords: U.S. public interest law, human rights, changes to the U.S. public interest system

Suggested Citation

Cummings, Scott L., The Internationalization of Public Interest Law. Duke Law Journal, Vol. 57, 2008; University of California, Los Angeles - School of Law Research Paper No. 06-41; New York Law School Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 06/07-5. Available at SSRN:

Scott L. Cummings (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States

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