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After the Bar

Professional Development

To Advocate or to Lawyer: Being Socially Active in a Lawyering World

Taalib Saber

To Advocate or to Lawyer: Being Socially Active in a Lawyering World

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As attorneys, we take an oath to uphold the tenets and provisions of the Constitution at all times, even when we are not acting in our capacity as representatives of the court. Attorneys are duty-bound to represent their clients zealously, have candor toward the tribunal, and quite simply, argue the facts.

What happens when you blur the lines between being a representative of the court while also trying to maintain a personal life of activism and awareness? Is it possible to uphold your duties to the court while advocating for the social issues that you are most passionate about? As a community activist and attorney, these are questions that I grapple with regularly.

Advocating for social justice issues as an attorney has limits. We must always be mindful of these constraints. We cannot act above or outside of the law in the name of bringing about change. Those of us in the legal field are held to a higher standard because we took an oath, and our communities and the legal organizations in which we participate look to us for guidance.

When it seems that your social justice advocacy conflicts with your practice of law, you must ask yourself if the pros outweigh the cons. It is your duty to review and research thoroughly the risks of engaging in certain activities. Is it worth potentially losing your bar license? Your job? When you are unsure of the potential risks, it is always a good idea to reach out to your legal peers or your local and state bar ethics committee to seek further guidance.

As an advocate and lawyer, I have found ways to engage in meaningful change without jeopardizing the integrity of both my career and my personal beliefs. The two most important to me are mentorship and education. Mentoring youth in your community is a powerful means to effectuate change. The elders within a community represent where a movement for change is currently, but our youth will carry the torch that moves us forward. For education, several organizations, like the Movement for Black Power and the Tubman House, offer courses that educate the community about politics and constitutional rights. Specifically, these courses teach participants how state and local politics affect our communities and provide participants with the tools to interact with law enforcement safely.

These are merely a couple of examples of ways to engage in social change while upholding the integrity of the profession. As you engage in social justice advocacy, get creative and passionate, but never lose sight of your duty as a member of the bar. As attorneys, we are all aware that we do not have the same privileges as private citizens to advocate for our beliefs without facing personal and professional consequences. However, this should not deter you from zealously advocating for issues that you are passionate about and that affect your community. Remember that as attorneys, we must be judicious in our advocacy, too.