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Rebellious Lawyering--An Anti-Conference Conference for Law Students

This weekend, February 15-17, the Rebellious Lawyering Conference will once again convene at YLS. Hundreds of law students from around the country are expected for the conference's thirteen panels, primary speech, two films, and one spoken-word performance. But the aim of the conference is not only to foster discussion, but also action.

Kate Mogulescu '03, one of the organizers of the conference, says that Rebellious Lawyering is intended as "an antithesis to traditional legal conferences" with the central goal of "maintain[ing] optimism and enthusiasm for advocacy in the law." It's something she says can be difficult to do while consumed with the challenges of law school. And so the speakers invited to the conference mostly come from outside the academy--practicing advocates and activists for social change. In many cases, they're "people who are doing great work, but don't have a forum," according to Mogulescu.

Every year the content and focus of the conference change, as the proceedings are entirely student-run. Following the dictates of their egalitarian principles, the entire program is decided democratically, not by a committee or a leader. Students prepare proposals for panel discussions with a topic and suggested speakers, which are then voted on. The voting body is whoever wants to participate.

The panels selected this year cover issues from capital punishment to same sex marriage. A few focus on issues that have become significant since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, such as one titled "Immigrants' Civil Rights: Before and After 9/11."

Another panel, titled "Advocacy Under Fire: Welfare Restrictions and the New Recession," was organized by Anya McMurray '04, among others, and deals indirectly with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The idea for the topic came from McMurray's observation that after September 11 the problems associated with welfare reform--five-year lifetime limits running out, and more people needing help in a recession--were being overlooked by the major media. McMurray wanted to highlight the challenge of "how to advocate a difficult issue in difficult times"--especially with clients whom most people might not find sympathetic.

The conference generally focuses on strategies for using the law to advance social progress, but not only from a lawyer's perspective. The welfare reform panel illustrates this approach, as it includes four panelists with different views of the problem. According to McMurray, she tried to "balance the policy perspective with local activists." The panelists are: Mimi Abromowitz, a professor at the Hunter School of Social Work, who can provide a "national policy perspective"; Leslie Brett, the executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women in Connecticut, who can speak about "how communities can respond to the challenges of welfare reform"; Andrew Friedman, a recent graduate from law school who co-founded Make the Road by Walking, an organization fighting for justice and opportunity in Brooklyn, New York; and Leslie Monroy, who is on the board of directors of Make the Road by Walking and has been a welfare recipient herself.

With the variety of panels, no one person will be interested in them all, but everyone should find plenty of interest, according to Mogulescu.

Both McMurray and Mogulescu are also looking forward to some of the more informal discussions scheduled into the program. There will be lunches between the panels, as well as a dinner and a "Rebellious People's Party," for students and activists to interact. Furthermore, the National Lawyer's Guild has helped arrange mentoring sessions, where conference participants can informally speak with practitioners. McMurray says there should be "really interesting conversation in the smaller setting . . . [when] students can bounce ideas off of those with experience."

So, what's it like to gather hundreds of admittedly rebellious lawyers in one place for a weekend? Mogulescu says it's interesting and fun. But she also admits, "It's really chaos."

But a little disorder doesn't phase Mogulescu; she welcomes the energy each participant brings to the conference. "The more people the better," she says.

For more information about the Rebellious Lawyering Conference (including a schedule and list of speakers), see the link below.

Related Link:
Rebellious Lawyering Conference