Law on the street: Legal narrative and the street law classroom

This Article argues that the failure of anti-discrimination law to address the problems of subordination reflects the hegemonic perspective in legal narratives. For the lawyer concerned with social change, it is imperative to identify these narratives and the ways in which they not only inhibit deep social change, but may perpetuate the conditions of subordination. Yet, law school polices against the consciousness necessary for the lawyer to identify the hegemonic narrative in the law, and often instills attitudes which are antithetical to the project of social change. In this context, Street Law - a practical law course taught by law students to high school students in inner city neighborhoods and juvenile facilities-is an arena for the development of counter-hegemonic consciousness in the lawyer and in subordinated communities. Literature on narrative from the legal and social science communities informs this analysis. Part I is the Introduction. Part II conceptualizes the classroom as a narrative moment in which legal text, interpretation and experience come together, and then establishes a framework for analyzing these elements. First, the Castlemont community in Oakland, California where the author taught Street Law is characterized as illustrating conditions of social marginalization and subordination. Next, the concept of narrative is defined in greater detail, and Ewick and Silbey's theory of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic narrative is introduced. Lastly, this Part analyzes the narrative of discrimination offered by anti-discrimination law as hegemonic. Part III explores how legal education thwarts development of the consciousness and skills a lawyer needs to work for social change. First, the conditions associated with counter-hegemonic consciousness are discussed. Next, this Part argues that the objective viewpoint of the law is hegemonic in nature. The manifestation of this viewpoint in law school hinders the development of counter-hegemonic consciousness in persons of the law, instills attitudes which thwart the project of social change, and leads to widespread alienation-particularly among students with viewpoints that are marginalized within law school. Finally, Part IV returns to the Street Law classroom, and the nature of the opportunity Street Law presents for a person of the law and her students. This Part suggests that Street Law is an opportunity to develop the consciousness and other qualities necessary for social justice lawyering. This Part also suggests that subjectivity is an appropriate methodology to employ in developing a pedagogy which encourages counter-hegemonic consciousness in the Street Law classroom.
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