Lawyering for radical change

When we listened to Lawrence Liang during the AsiaSource Camp in Bangalore, India about the politics of copy, I did not realize he was himself a lawyer. He is part of the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), an NGO in India that deals with a vast array of themes not normally touched by mainstream lawyers.

I know that activist lawyers are an increasing tribe in the globe, particularly in Asia. In the Philippines, for example, we have Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which was established during the heyday of the Marcos regime. FLAG has gradually ‘repackaged’ itself from being associated with the human rights violations under the Marcoses to dealing with economic, social and cultural rights. FLAG has ‘mainstreamed’ itself in the human rights community of the present times.

There are also other alternative lawyering groups like SALIGAN, ALTERLAW, and LRC-KSK.

These groups, thinking of themselves as part of the movement to change society (for the better, of course), formed in 1990 a network called Alternative Law Group (ALG). Says LRC-KSK: “From a handful of legal non-governmental organizations, the network had now grown to include twenty-four (24) progressive institutions geared towards providing alternative or developmental legal service addressing the needs of the marginalized sectors of society. These legal organizations have distinct programs for developmental, alternative, feminist or strategic and political legal interventions as a means to empower the disadvantaged.”

I have taken alternative lawyering for granted until I listened to Liang. And he broadened my perspective of what an activist lawyer can do for the society. As I said, an activist lawyer can tread a path that a regular/mainstream lawyer fears. So Liang is one of those tackling the issue of intellectual property from the perspective of the common folks. He has Filipino counterparts like Attorneys JJ Disini and Bong Dizon.
We also have what we call feminist lawyers, who are mostly employed in NGOs. But several have made a name for themselves already like Atty. Katrina Legarda.

The topic reminds me of a work colleague who has proposed a concept that is called radical lawyering. He said that it was high time that PEACE engaged in a legal and paralegal service program that thinks out of the box, embarking on non-conventional methods that work not merely for the individual clients or client communities but for society as a whole. Radical lawyering transcends the bounds of national law invoking human rights internationally recognized. Radical lawyering is a way to go in a society run practically by the elite. Gradually, the radical-lawyering proposal has hewed the program that PEACE now has. Since three years ago, we have tinkered with and gradually implemented the strategy called ‘rightful resistance’, which draws from the experience of the Philippine peasant movement and that from the Rural China.

Lastly, I am pleased to share with you a link that discusses the concept of activist lawyering: http://scottneigh.blogspot.com/2006/05/random-thoughts-on-activist-lawyering.html

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