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Legal Ethics 23.1-2 (2020)


It is 50 years since Stephen Wexler’s essay, Practicing Law for Poor People, was published. By any reasonable measure, this has become and remains an iconic piece. Whether he is agreed with or disagreed with, Wexler’s arguments continue to define the terms of the debate about the proper role and responsibilities of those who practise law for poor people. Critics and jurists can be for or against Wexler’s account, but they cannot make serious headway without it. As such, Wexler’s essay deserves to be celebrated and showcased as it reaches its half-century milestone. However, his ideas and their informing assumptions about law and poverty also warrant serious reappraisal. Much has happened since his clarion call to arms. If the plight of those in poverty remains as dire and demanding as ever, the legal and social terrain is significantly different in regard to the formative dynamics and on-the-ground experience of poverty lawyers. So, in the constructive spirit of critical collaboration towards a firmer model of ‘progressive lawyering,’ it is fitting to challenge and push through on some of the primary motifs and underlying suppositions of Wexler’s justly famous essay.