TAKING IDEALS SERIOUSLY: The Case for a Lawyers' Public Interest Movement by Robert L.--Ed. Ellis

TAKING IDEALS SERIOUSLY: The Case for a Lawyers' Public Interest Movement

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Given the Reagan administration's opposition to legal services funding, at least where taxpayers' dollars support ""law reform"" activity, the time is ripe for a ringing defense of ""public interest"" advocacy; but this uneven collection of 21 short papers by lawyers, scholars, and activists, edited by an Antioch Law School student, doesn't quite fill the bill. The organization is intelligent: first, an examination of problems (misallocation of legal resources, procedural barriers to enforcement of rights, the impact of well-financed business lobbying); then, a look at the public-interest movement's achievements. The short-article format, however, barely lets the writers crank up steam, let alone substance. Even the well-argued pieces seem like introductions to missing monographs, while the superficial articles are embarrassingly complete with Breathtaking Unsupported Generalizations (Joel Seligman: American law schools are now ""political institutions""; Mark Green: federal corporate chartering would cause companies to exercise power ""more democratically and more accountably""). Also in the chaff department is a C-plus article by Ralph Nader on obstacles to public-interest law practice, which simply repeats points made elsewhere in the collection. On the plus side: editor Ellis contributes a clear discussion of recent judicial cutback of the ""standing to sue"" concept; Alan Morrison offers a succinct piece on how public-interest litigation has been harmed by restrictive class-action rulings and the courts' increasing reluctance to find implied private fights of action under federal statutes; and Burton Wechsler, in a subtle gem of an article, explains how access to federal court can sometimes be a ""remedy"" in itself. Overall, however, some seemingly central issues escape attention here: If it is appropriate for public-interest lawyers to view legal representation ""as an integral part of efforts to make society live up to goals that they personally regard as desirable,"" how does the lawyer balance the very real possibility of conflict between the short-term interest of an individual client and the long-term societal goal? And what controls can or should be applied by the ""public"" on self-appointed representatives of our ""interest""? Hit and miss.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Equal Justice Foundation (1333 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20036)