The annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference (“RebLaw”) is the largest student-run public interest conference in the country, and it is hosted by Yale Law School.
Founded in 1994, RebLaw is now in its 15th year and attracts hundreds of law students, practitioners, and community advocates from around the country to discuss innovative, progressive approaches to public interest lawyering and social change. This year’s conference will take place the weekend of February 20-22, 2009, and will feature keynote speakers Van Jones (YLS ’93) and Yale Law School Visiting Lecturer Stephen Bright. Van Jones is founding president of Green For All, an organization dedicated to building an “inclusive green economy” by advocating for local, state and federal creation of green-collar job creation and job training, seeking to fight both poverty and pollution at the same time. Stephen Bright is president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, an organization that fights to enforce the human rights of people in the criminal justice and prison systems. Prof. Bright is also a favored professor among students who take his course, Capital Punishment: Race, Poverty and Disadvantage or who work with him in the Capital Assistance Project or Capital Punishment Clinic.
RebLaw is an opportunity for public interest-minded folk from around the country to gather, exchange ideas, and energize one another. This year’s program features thirteen panels on a broad range of topics, including labor exploitation, intersex infants and genital surgery, parole policy reform, the school to prison pipeline, hate crimes pre- and post-9/11, the legalization of prostitution, and much more. Conference participants will also have an opportunity to attend one of five workshops, designed to give participants concrete skills that they can take with them and apply to their work back home. Workshop topics this year include how to write and publish an op-ed piece, and how to set up a workplace immigration raid first responder team on campus, among others.
Participants will have the chance to attend one of eleven topical “issue lunches,” led by Yale Law students from various student organizations. These lunches will afford everyone the opportunity to share his or her own experiences in a given area and to exchange ideas on how to tackle some of the most pressing social justice issues today. A major goal and an invaluable product of RebLaw is the relationships that it forges among conference participants and the working collaborations that it facilitates. To top it all off, the conference concludes with a serious party at BAR (a favorite local bar with excellent pizza, too), this year featuring Kittens Ablaze, a six-piece indie-folk rock band from Brooklyn, NY.
It is an incredible privilege, as Yale students, to be at the heart of this conference. While students at seemingly every law school have to work just a little bit harder to find public interest opportunities, mentors, and jobs, RebLaw is a testament to the genuine commitment that Yale has to social justice and to its students who wish to pursue public-interest careers. In addition to funding the conference itself, the school also supports all the student organizations that come together to create the content of the conference. RebLaw is a completely organic, bottom-up conference, and each year’s content is generated entirely by students; to bring all the weekend’s events together requires the creativity and coordination of countless individuals and student groups.
In my mind, RebLaw is an aggregate of all the amazing social justice opportunities that Yale Law has to offer, and of all the energy and passion in the students that Yale Law attracts. At the same time, it is a weekend of inspiration and community for public-interest folks from around the country, opening our minds, reaffirming our convictions, and challenging us to take on the task of the rebellious lawyer.