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Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics






This essay takes a new look at legal ethics issues salient to "movement lawyers" who maintain a sustained commitment to social movement goals and collaborate with social movement organizations over time to achieve them. The essay provides a historical overview of movement lawyering, tracing its development to current practice in which movement lawyers work in collaboration with mobilized social movement groups, though not always in traditional lawyer-client relationships. As this analysis reveals, contemporary movements employ a sophisticated array of strategies, which may pull lawyers away from traditional representation paradigms. We argue that the legal ethics literature on movement lawyering must adapt to these new developments. To advance this project, we highlight two under-explored ethical dimensions of movement lawyering practice, which we term intra-movement dissent and temporality.

The concept of intra-movement dissent spotlights the contested nature of social movements and the need for lawyers to take sides in disputes over goals and strategies. Conventional applications of legal ethics rules do not provide sufficient guidance to movement lawyers in such scenarios. Even lawyers who are trying their best to be movement-centered will inevitably confront situations in which they must exercise discretion without clear direction, such as in choosing which groups to represent within movements and how to resolve internal disagreements. The concept of temporality focuses attention on movement lawyers' commitment to a long-term vision of social change. We suggest that movement lawyers should be able to identify long-term movement goals as their primary loyalty and negotiate non-traditional relationships with specific clients and other movement stakeholders to advance those goals. Our primary aim is to highlight the need for more context-specific attention from scholars and practitioners to address legal ethics principles of key importance in guiding movement lawyers.



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