AALS 2010 Annual Meeting
New Orleans, Louisiana
January 6-10, 2010
Hilton New Orleans Riverside
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Call for Scholarly Papers
In 2010, we will be meeting in New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina forced the relocation of our 2006 Annual Meeting. During my Presidential year, I am adopting the theme of “Transformative Law,” mindful of the symbolic significance of our return there as well as of the successes and failures of the legal profession in addressing this perilous past decade. Our meeting this year takes place at a time of crisis in our economy, our ecology, and our international standing as the leader of the free world. Many lawyers (including our President, Vice-President, and many Cabinet officials and congressional leaders) must tackle these challenges. Media coverage of their efforts, however, portrays these public servants as people who happen to be lawyers, not as lawyers whose leadership grows out of their mastery of law and whose accomplishments represent the pinnacle of their professional pursuits. To a significant degree, the news accounts reflect the fact that these leaders have not pursued a traditional law firm practice but instead have devoted themselves to government and public service. The image of the citizen-lawyer, whose training can be used to advance the common good, has so thoroughly disappeared from the popular imagination that those who pursue this path are no longer centrally defined as lawyers.
Contrast today’s portrayals to those of fifty years ago, when the word “lawyer” might conjure up images of crusaders in the civil rights movement. Or, compare these images to those of an even earlier era, when attorneys entered public life as architects of the New Deal. When citizen-lawyers embarked on these campaigns for change, the result was transformative law. By this, I mean that law became a powerful tool to challenge and reconfigure social institutions. Transformative law can take place at the national, state, or local level. Challenges can come through landmark Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education, which forced the nation to reconsider the meaning of racial equality. Or, change can be the product of ground-breaking statutes and administrative action, as the battle for the New Deal that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt waged with a reluctant Supreme Court reminds us.
Whatever the forum, citizen-lawyers have produced transformative law because they understood their professional role as integral to achieving the American dream.
Today, when lawyers receive attention as lawyers, they are more likely to be defending the notorious than building the nation. Is there no greater role for lawyers as professionals in our contemporary public life? Is the citizen-lawyer now largely relegated to some lost golden age of reform? I believe that law still has a vital role to play at moments of national crisis like this one, but we must once again recognize that lawyers can be powerful agents of change and not merely advocates for agendas set by someone else. We, as members of a learned society, can play a critical role in resurrecting the citizen-lawyer and the possibilities for transformative law. In fact, the current crisis of confidence in our country provides an unparalleled opportunity for lawyers to answer the call of service and restore a sense of integrity and trust.
AALS President and University of California, Berkeley School of Law