Law School hosts ‘rebellious’ public interest law conference

This past weekend, Yale Law School — home to some of the most distinguished lawyers, politicians and diplomats in the world — became a forum for some more unconventional speakers. The school hosted the 13th Annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference, known as RebLaw, which invited those who are interested in public and social change to discuss contemporary public interest issues in legal affairs.

The conference began with a keynote address by Matthew Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian & Gay Rights and HIV/AIDS projects. His speech was followed by workshops and panels focused on topics in public interest law, including offerings such as “Eco-Sabotage and the War on Terror,” “Anarchist Lawyering” and “Increasing Access to Medicines: Local to International Strategies.”

The panels, each developed by a different group of Law School students, have been in the works since September.

“The amount of planning and thought [put into each panel] reflects the interest of people who are organizing them [and] pushes the envelope of each individual area,” said Benjamin Siracusa LAW ’08, one of the conference’s coordinators.

The panels featured practitioners from lesser-known organizations as well as from prominent groups such as the ACLU and the NAACP, ensuring a wide array of opinions.

Emily Teplin LAW ’07, a coordinator for last year’s RebLaw and the moderator of a panel on international disability rights, said the conference provides participants with a unique chance to meet others in the field.

“It has a really important function … bringing together law students from all over the country and giving us a really good opportunity to meet future public interest lawyers and current practitioners,” she said.

RebLaw was founded before many other public interest groups at the Law School, including the school’s chapter of the American Constitutional Society. It was the brainchild of Lori Mach LAW ’95 and Steven Gunn LAW ’95, who held the first conference in 1994 in an effort to provide a common forum for those who wished to pursue public interest law as a career.

The conference has generated strong interest, as evidenced by the 517 registrations that were received this year, exceeding last year’s total of 505. Participants came from across the nation and the world, including students from Puerto Rico, Canada and England.

Those involved in the conference said the weekend was a success. Amy Cara Brosnan, a third year law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said there were enough events to last a full week, rather than just for the weekend. Brosnan, along with fellow law student Lauren McSwain, said the conference was unique in that the panel speakers were able to provide a wide array of opinions on public interest law.

“These are people who do it as a lifestyle,” Brosnan said. “If you want social change, you’re making trouble for the status quo … it’s important to have figures to follow in constructing and navigating these issues.”

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