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Rebellious Lawyering Conference Open to Law Students around the Country

Each year the Rebellious Lawyering conference, a student-run, weekend-long event focused on public interest law, draws hundreds of people to Yale Law School.

This year the conference will be held on February 21-23, and online registration is currently open. (Further details on the conference schedule and registration policies are available on the Rebellious Lawyering website.)

It is not easy to reduce the Rebellious Lawyering conference to a simple description. One of the co-directors of this year's program, Alexandra Block '04, says, "Our aim is to not have a theme for the conference." Instead, Rebellious Lawyering covers a broad spectrum of topics--from activism to politics to litigation--all with an eye toward how law students and other activists can make a difference in their communities. The intent is to have a program with something of interest for everyone who attends.

Block herself is an example of how effective the conference can be in motivating students. She first attended Rebellious Lawyering as an undergraduate several years ago. "RebLaw was one of the reasons I applied to law school," she says. "[Because] it had such an exciting atmosphere, with idealistic people who believe they can use their law degrees for social good." A speech at Rebellious Lawyering inspired Block's interest in capital punishment defense, and she has pursued this interest through summer work and by participating in the Capital Assistance Project at YLS.

This year's Rebellious Lawyering opens on the evening of Friday, February 21, with an address by Maria Blanco, national senior counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, titled "Post 9/11 and Civil Rights in a Global Society." Following this talk will be the screening of a film called "Fighting for Life in the Death Belt" and a discussion with the filmmakers, Jeff Marks and Adam Elend of E.M. Productions. The film profiles Steven Bright, a YLS visiting lecturer who is also the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and a well known advocate for death-row prisoners.

Morris Dees, Jr., the founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that combats hate, intolerance, and discrimination through education and litigation, will deliver a keynote address on Saturday evening. The talk is titled "With Justice for All."

The heart of the program will occur on Saturday and Sunday, February 22-23, with sixteen panel discussions and workshops.

Panel discussions will cover a gamut of topics from "The Brutal Truth--Linking Violence Against Women to Violence Against Animals" to "The Bush Energy Policy--Environmental Injustice" to "Using International Human Rights Law for Social Change."

These discussions will approach the law broadly, looking not just at litigation, but also at alternative methods of representation, such as grassroots organizing. One such panel is "OutLegislating: When an Elected Official's Sexuality Makes Her Presence in the Legislature Rebellious." Tico Almeida '04, who organized this panel, says it came about from an interest in the many ways to use the law for social change. "RebLaw has traditionally focused on litigating for social change, but at the planning meeting last fall, many students were interested in expanding to also include panels about legislating for social change. . . . I think advocacy efforts are oftentimes stronger when they combine litigation and legislative strategies." The "OutLegislating" panel will feature "four legislators [who] have been able to effectively push for legislation that ensures equal rights for gays and lesbians, as well as legislation on important issues having nothing to do with sexuality."

The workshops will be smaller sessions designed to help students with some experience in an area to gain specific skills. For example, in the workshop "Lobbying Basics," a lobbyist and a Senate staffer will talk about methods to gain access to decision-makers and tactics for presenting issues effectively.

Another workshop will focus on the conflict between the U.S. Department of Defense and a number of law schools around the country over the presence of military recruiters at law school career events. According to Lindsay Barenz '04, who organized the workshop, the idea for it grew out of the "anger and passion around this issue." She thought that a workshop at Rebellious Lawyering would be a good way to bring together law students from different schools who are all facing this issue. The participants in the workshop will discuss what has happened so far and various plans to bring more attention to the issue.