‘Rebel’ lawyers discuss activism

While many future attorneys dream of corporate boardrooms and high salaries, many of those at the Rebellious Lawyering Conference this week were hoping to practice a different type of law.

“We are motivated and rejuvenated,” Katie Kimpel LAW ’06, one of the conference’s five coordinators, said. “This type of work requires a lot of dedication and perseverance and pays a lot less. We need to gain strength from one another.”

The conference, now in its 11th year, has sought to promote aggressive activism through panels on public legal issues and social justice. Over 400 people attended this year’s conference at Yale Law School this weekend, including 15 students from Puerto Rico, five from Denver and a large number from Toronto, Paige Herwig LAW ’06, another coordinator, said.

Kimpel said this year’s conference focused on a broad range of issues, going beyond traditional public legal issues such as death penalty and gay marriage. For example, Saturday featured talks addressing the restoration of voting rights to felons and the legal battle against industrial farming, while on Sunday the conference focused on school desegregation and environmental issues in coal-dependent communities.

Herwig said that the diversity of issues addressed is a result of the conference’s structure; the panels are all planned and organized by individual students who are interested in specific public issues.

“All we do is provide the infrastructure and the brand-name,” Herwig said.

Kimpel said one of the reasons the conference drew such a large and diverse group of students is that few law schools can afford to put as much emphasis on public issues as Yale can.

Vilmarie Cordero, a student at the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, said that she traveled to Yale on her own initiative because of her strong interest in civil rights. Cordero, who attended a variety of events, including a workshop on environmental rights and a talk on the death penalty, said that the conference was successful in promoting altruism among students.

All the participating panelists are volunteers, Herwig said, and as a result, they are more accessible to the students who share their interest towards certain causes.

Adam Hollander LAW ’06, another coordinator, said the panelists’ excitement can encourage students to pursue their interests professionally. The path towards social justice work is less apparent to law students than most career paths and plagued by uncertainty, he said.

In addition, Kimpel said although the panelists are people who are striving for important social causes, they rarely get recognition for what they do. The conference provides an opportunity to honor their achievements.

Yet Herwig said the conference also fills an important niche within the Law School itself.

“The Yale Law School is small, and there are no classes on environmental law,” she said. “The school doesn’t have a spot for an educational law professor either.”

Hollander said participants also benefit from the opportunity to evaluate their life goals during the conference.

“We bring together hundreds of people who are already very dedicated to social justice and are feeling that what they are doing is always good,” he said. “It is important for them to think more critically about what they’re doing.”

Paul Butler, a law professor from George Washington University, speaks at the annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference at the Law School this weekend.
Susan Keppelman
Paul Butler, a law professor from George Washington University, speaks at the annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference at the Law School this weekend.

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