Engineers of Social Change

By Artika R. Tyner

Reading the Sunday classifieds, you see a job posting that seeks an engineer of social change. It sounds intriguing, but, what is an engineer of social change?

Engineers of social change utilize their legal training as a strategic tool to solve "problems of . . . local communities" and in "bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens." (Dean Charles Hamilton Houston, Howard University School of Law.) Lawyers have many legal skills — fact investigation, oral advocacy, and legal research and writing — that can be used to build and restore communities.

What are the job qualifications? Legal training and a passion for social justice are the only prerequisites. The community organization will train you on the job. In addition, you will develop a number of invaluable skills that will be highly marketable in your legal career. These skills include:

  1. Creative problem solving. Engineers of social change minister to the needs of communities by using an interprofessional approach that requires working with social workers, psychologists, and other professionals to address the root cause of the community’s legal issues. For example, attorneys may collaborate with social workers to ensure that social services are accessible within the community.
  2. Grassroots organizing. Traditionally, lawyers have played an integral role in shaping public policy and effectuating systemic changes. Engineers of social change can use their legal skills to empower communities as they advocate for the protection of civil rights and equal access to justice. Engineers of social change use their legal skills to help people carry out their ideas and create a strategic plan of action to achieve their goals.
  3. Leadership development. Engineers of social change create transformation through the utilization of their problem–solving skills, social judgment skills, and knowledge of the law. They lead the community in realizing the full potential of its power.
  4. Bridge building. Engineers of social change are integral to building the community by acting as a liaison between community members, policy makers, and key stakeholders.

Getting started. Openings are available in both your local community and the global community, whether serving on a nonprofit board, volunteering for a local civil rights organization, or drafting legislation on an emerging human rights issue. Through the utilization of enthusiastic and committed legal talent, communities can become empowered, revitalized, and transformed. Now you’ve been hired as an engineer of social change—the job is yours and the possibilities are endless!

Artika R. Tyner is a clinical law fellow at the University of Saint Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Contact her at or visit the clinic–s Web site at

Copyright 2007

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Charles J. Driebe

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