The National Lawyers Guild: Law for the People - Disorientation Handbook: Creating Your Own Progressive Legal Education


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The National Lawyers Guild: Law for the People - Disorientation Handbook: Creating Your Own Progressive Legal Education




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t h e n a t i o n a l l aw ye r s g u i l d
Law for the People

Creating Your Own Progressive Legal Education

Amicus Committee
Animal Rights Activism Committee
Anti-Racism Committee
Anti-Sexism Committee
Committee for Democratic Communications
Disability Rights Committee
Drug Policy Committee
Environmental Justice Committee
Housing Committee
International Committee
Labor & Employment Committee
Legal Workers Committee

Mass Defense Committee
Mass Incarceration Committee
Military Law Task Force
Next Gen Committee
Prison Law Project
Queer Caucus
TUPOCC (The United People of Color Caucus)
National Immigration Project
Dan Kesselbrenner:
tel (617) 227-9727, fax (617) 227-5495
National Police Accountability Project
Brigitt Keller:
tel (617) 227-6015, fax (617) 227-6018
Sugar Law Center For Economic Justice
Virginia Romano:
tel (313) 962-6540, fax (313) 962-4492

Practice Being a People’s Lawyer!


ou have unlimited possibilities to better society through your practice of law. Each of you
is unique in how you can apply your talents,
skills, and creative energies to find ways to use the law to
advance justice. If you are like most incoming law students
you probably will hear that attorneys cannot mix activism
with the practice of law. Your law school experience may
reinforce this notion. The purpose of this Disorientation
Handbook is to provoke you to challenge traditional
notions of how one must practice law and to suggest ways
to make your three years of study more enriching and
challenging. The National Lawyers Guild strongly recommends that you begin your work as a “people’s lawyer”
while in law school.
Your most important lessons are going to come
through your interactions with the people—and causes—
you represent. The most significant preparation you will
need in practice is not the careful analysis of the argument of the opposition, as necessary as that is. What is
decisive in preparation is knowing your own people and,
out of your relationship with them, coming to under-

stand their thinking, their analysis of the problems facing
them, and their perception of the solution, of what must
be done. Avoid the pitfalls that so many young lawyers
often fall into. Most new lawyers feel that the problems
involved are strictly legal and, because they know the
law, they have the answers to the problems and know
what to do. Consequently, they do not listen to the people involved. And time after time, by focusing so strongly
on the legal issues, these attorneys miss the actual problems and fail to develop the approaches really required.
The test for a people’s lawyer is not always the technical winning or losing of the formal proceedings. The real
test is the impact of the legal activities on the morale and
understanding of the people involved in the struggle. No
matter how experienced, clever, and resourceful a lawyer
may be, the most important element is still the informed
support and active participation of the people involved.
Without this, a legal victory has very little meaning
—Arthur Kinoy (1920-2003), Guild attorney

Arthur Kinoy being dragged from the hearing room of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1966.
National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


History of the National Lawyers Guild


ounded in 1937, the National
Lawyers Guild was the nation’s
first racially integrated bar
association. In the 1930s, Guild lawyers helped organize the United Auto
Workers, the Congress of Industrial
Organizations, and supported the New
Deal in the face of determined opposition. In the 1940s, Guild lawyers
fought against fascists in the Spanish
Civil War and WWII, and helped
prosecute Nazis at Nuremburg. Guild
lawyers fought racial discrimination
in cases such as Hansberry v. Lee,
the case that struck down segregationist Jim Crow laws in Chicago. The
Guild was one of the non-governmental organizations selected by the U.S.
government to officially represent the
American people at the founding of
the United Nations in 1945. Members
helped draft the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and founded one of

the first UN-accredited human rights
non-governmental organizations in
1948, the International Association of
Democratic Lawyers (IADL).
In the late 1940s and 1950s,
Guild members founded the first
national plaintiffs personal injury
bar association that became the
American Trial Lawyers Association
(ATLA), and pioneered storefront
law offices for low-income clients
that became the model for the community based offices of the Legal
Services Corporation. During the
McCarthy era, Guild members represented the Hollywood Ten, the
Rosenbergs, and thousands of victims of the anti-communist hysteria.
Unlike all other national bar associations, the Guild refused to require
“loyalty oaths” of its members
and was thus labeled “subversive”
by the U.S. Justice Department,

Demonstration, June 1950, in support of the Hollywood 10, screenwriters who were convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities
Committee (HUAC) and were then blacklisted.


National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

which later admitted the charges
were baseless, however only after
ten years of federal litigation. This
period in the Guild’s history made
the defense of democratic rights
and the dangers of political profiling more than theoretical questions
for its members and provided valuable experience in defending First
Amendment freedoms that informs
the work of the organization today.
In the 1960s, the Guild set up
offices in the South and organized
thousands of volunteer lawyers and
law students to support the civil
rights movement, long before the
federal government or other bar
associations. Guild members represented the families of murdered
civil rights activists Schwerner,
Chaney and Goodman, who were
assassinated by local law enforcement/Ku Klux Klan members.
Guild-initiated lawsuits brought
the Justice Department directly
into Mississippi and challenged the
seating of the all-white Mississippi
delegation at the 1964 Democratic
National Convention. Guild lawyers defended civil rights activists
and established new federal constitutional protections in Supreme
Court cases such as: Dombrowski
v. Pfister, enjoining thousands
of racially-motivated state court
criminal prosecutions; Goldberg
v. Kelly, establishing the concept
of “entitlements” to social benefits
which require due process protections; and, Monell v. Dept. of Social
Services, holding municipalities
liable for police brutality.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s,
Guild members represented Vietnam
War draft resisters, antiwar activists
and the Chicago 7.

Guild offices in Asia represented GIs who opposed the war.
Guild members argued U.S. v. U.S.
District Court, the Supreme Court
case that established that Nixon
could not ignore the Bill of Rights
in the name of “national security”
and led to the Watergate hearings
and Nixon’s resignation. Guild
members defended F.B.I.-targeted
members of the Black Panther Party,
the American Indian Movement,
and the Puerto Rican independence
movement. Members helped expose
illegal F.B.I and C.I.A. surveillance,
infiltration and disruption tactics
(called COINTELPRO), that the
U.S. Senate Church Commission
hearings detailed in 1975-76 and
which led to enactment of the
Freedom of Information Act and
other limitations on federal investigative power. The NLG supported
self-determination for Palestine,
began the ongoing fight against
the blockade of Cuba and opposed
apartheid in South Africa at a time
when the U.S. Government called
Nelson Mandela a “terrorist.”
Members founded other civil and
human rights institutions, such as
the Center for Constitutional Rights,
the National Conference of Black
Lawyers, the Meiklejohn Civil
Liberties Institute and the People's
College of Law.
In the 1980s, the Guild pioneered
the “necessity defense” and used
international law to support the antinuclear movement and to challenge
the use of nuclear weapons. In a
case argued by Guild lawyers, the
World Court declared that nuclear
weapons violate international law.
The Guild’s National Immigration
Project began working on immigration issues, spurred by the need to
represent Central American refugees
and asylum activists. Legal theories
for holding foreign human rights
violators accountable in U.S. courts,
based on early 19th century federal
statutes, were pioneered by Guild

Legal services supporters during the 1979 strike in New York City.

lawyers. The Guild organized
“People’s Tribunals” to expose the
illegality of U.S. intervention in
Central America that became even
more widely known as the “IranContra” scandal. The Guild prevailed in a lawsuit against the F.B.I.
for illegal political surveillance of
legal, activist organizations, including the Guild. In the mid-80's the
NLG also published the first major
treatise on sexual orientation and
the law, as well as the first legal
practitioner's manual on HIV/AIDS.
In the 1990s, Guild members
mobilized opposition to the Gulf
War, defended Haitian refugees,
opposed the U.S. blockade of Cuba
and began to define a new civil
rights agenda that includes the right
to health care, employment, educa-

tion, and housing. Members authored
the first reports that detailed U.S.
violations of human rights standards
regarding the death penalty, racism,
police brutality, AIDS discrimination and economic rights. The Guild
initiated the National Coalition to
Protect Political Freedom to focus
opposition to “secret evidence”
deportations and First Amendment
violations after passage of the 1996
Anti-Terrorism Act, and established
the National Police Accountability
Project to address police misconduct.
Long before the Seattle WTO
demonstrations, the Guild was analyzing the impact of globalization on
human rights and the environment
and played an active role opposing
continued over

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


continued from previous page
As the 20th century came to a
close, the Guild was defending antiglobalization, environmental and
labor rights activists from Seattle to
D.C. to L.A. Guild members were
playing active roles in encouraging
cross-border labor organizing and in
exposing the abuses in the maquiladoras on the U.S.-Mexico Border.
The eight years of the Bush presidency showed us that the struggle
for democracy in the U.S. is far
from over. Ushered into power by
a stolen election that was upheld
as fair by our highest court, Bush
issued unprecedented and unwarranted buildups of military might
and expansions of executive power.
Protest organizers across the country
reported unlawful searches by local
and federal law enforcement; permits
were arbitrarily denied based on the
event content, and grand juries were
convened to question and intimidate
activists for exercising their right to
dissent. The attacks on civil liberties
and the scapegoating of Muslims
following 9/11, as well as the polarizing “with us or against us” policies
were altogether too reminiscent of
the McCarthy era witch-hunts. These
measures reinforced our belief that
the fight for justice must occur both
in the courtrooms and in the streets.
Guild members lobbied Congress
and worked with the House Judiciary
Committee in an effort to repeal
the worst aspects of the 2001 USA
PATRIOT Act. Members also filed
the first challenges against the use of
military tribunals and the detention
of prisoners from Afghanistan. Guild
members are defending activists,
representing immigrants facing
deportation, and testifying in federal
and state legislatures against attacks
on our civil liberties.
Guild members continue to tirelessly defending protestors who have
been falsely charged in response
to their political organizing. When

The Committee to Assist Southern Lawyers, circa 1963. The Committee depended heavily on the
work of young law students to ease the immense burden of civil rights cases filed by just a handful of Southern attorneys. From left: Len Holt, William Goodman, Denise Kessler, Joe Jordan, Ed
Dawley and Emma Gregory.

Occupy encampments spread across
the country in 2011, the NLG was
on hand to offer legal support. Our
Mass Defense committee also created the Green Scare Hotline­­—a
legal resource for activists being
targeted by police or the FBI. As
part of our AnoNLG project dedicated to defending hacktivists, the
NLG has been active in supporting
information activists such as Jeremy
Hammond and Bradley Manning.
A Guild attorney testified in
a decision that put a one-to-two
year moratorium on foreclosures,
allowing tenants of foreclosed properties to keep their existing leases.
Members lobbied to disbar John Yoo
for his legal opinions condoning
torture. Guild members also work on
numerous international issues; they
sent a delegation to Gaza to document Israeli war crimes during the
Dec. 2008 - Jan. 2009 invasion, and
wrote four of twelve amicus briefs
filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on
behalf of the Cuban Five.

We are now at a time of tremendous challenge and potential
for progressive movements. The
Guild’s role in this period of transition in the United States is essential;
our members are working across
the country to reshape the legal and
political landscape. The Obama
administration has continued many
of Bush’s policies of extraordinary
rendition, suspension of habeas
corpus, and use of the state secrets
clause. The work that NLG members
do is integral in building grassroots
movements necessary to protect civil
liberties, extend basic human rights
to all, and defend democracy now
and in the future.
For more on the Guild's history, visit
the interactive timeline on the website ( and read the NLG
report "Breach of Privilege: Spying
on Lawyers in the United States"
(2014), which examines the long history of surveillance of the legal profession and the NLG in particular.

1. 322 U.S. 32 (1940). 2. 380 U.S. 479 (1965). 3. 397 U.S. 254 (1970). 4. 436 U.S. 658 (1978). 5. 407 U.S. 297 (1972).


National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

How to Survive in Law School


elcome to boot camp! Just like boot camp in
the U.S. Marines, the first year of law school is
designed to acculturate you as a future member
of an elite corps with its own values, traditions, and illusions. Like any other boot camp, law school functions by
depriving you of your individuality, grabbing all your time,
weakening your previous ties to the people around you,
and offering you resurrection and rebirth if you successfully embrace the institution’s own view of the universe.
You will receive subliminal training in evaluating fellow
students, future clients and peers and the value of different
kinds of law practice.
The law school vision runs counter to the egalitarian,
democratic impulses of people who come to law school
to gain skills useful to movements for social change. Law
school indoctrination mirrors the political, social and
moral perspective of the Rehnquists, Scalias, Thomases
and, alas, Alitos and Robertses who define and dominate
modern jurisprudence. It also exalts the work of corporate
law firms that wield awesome power in the service of
their wealthy clients. Law school is designed to prepare
you to accept and perpetuate these realities—not to challenge them.
But what if you need to learn how to develop a progressive law practice that serves the community, how to get
the most accomplished with the fewest resources, how to
practice law in a way that empowers the disenfranchised?
The curriculum will rarely encourage you to think beyond
the acceptable range of conventional options, and the work
load can be both enervating and demoralizing.

3. Work with friends in your small section to break open

So what can you do to resist?

6. Fight the power! Don’t accept law school as it is. You

1. Stay off the academic treadmill. Don’t overestimate
the power of grades. Only a small portion of law school
graduates get jobs based on outstanding GPAs. Demonstrated
interest in a particular field of law counts with most employers for more than an A+ in real property.
2. Keep politically active. Find a way to engage your

energies outside of the confines of the law school curriculum. Obsessive focus on school is self-defeating. Make
connections now that will help you connect up with a public interest law job when you get out of law school. The
National Lawyers Guild and other progressive organizations work on many interesting and important law-related
projects and provide opportunities to find mentors who can
help you find summer jobs and long-term directions.

a classroom discussion from time to time. Professors are
adept at co-opting or trivializing unconventional ideas. One
way to promote critical thinking is to make sure that you and
your friends agree that when one of you expresses a “subversive” thought in class, the rest will express their support and
try to push the discussion further.
4. Early on, you will need to inoculate yourself
against feeling jealous toward the classmates who are
headed toward $100,000-plus a year positions straight out
of law school. Even though years of banal workaholic
drudgery await them, these students are the pride of each
institution. Earnings of graduates are a major factor in
U.S. News & World Report’s annual rating of American
law schools. The truth is that public interest jobs, though
usually low-paying, are far more interesting and rewarding
than corporate law. If you become involved in extracurricular political activities, you will discover that there is a
nationwide community of activist students, legal workers
and lawyers who work together to make law a tool for
social change. This discovery is a powerful antidote to law
school’s message that what really counts is moving and
shaking at a downtown law firm.
5. Try to keep up a life outside of school. Don’t
lose your old friends, forget to read a novel from time
to time, or abandon your swimming regime. Life is too
short and three years is too long to defer your living to
some other year. Avoid the total immersion approach to
law school.
can derive great strength from challenging practices that
ought to be changed. The law school needs to be prodded
on affirmative action in hiring and admissions, on developing a curriculum relevant to the needs of lawyers who
intend to serve as agents of social change, on adopting
teaching methods that nurture students and help them
realize their potential rather than teach them their place
in a pecking order. There is nothing more satisfying than
changing for the better the institutions through which you

—Ted Franklin is a labor union attorney working for a
broad range of clients including unions representing pressmen, janitors, carpenters, iron workers, health care workers, heavy equipment operators, teachers, laborers, and
many other trades. He is a partner with the firm Weinberg,
Roger & Rosenfeld headquartered in Alameda, California.

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


It’s Not a Choice Between Saving the World
and Losing Your Soul


aw school is very expensive,
and everyone reading this
knows it.Whether you attend
a public or a private law school, you
are spending an awful lot of money
for that privilege. Odds are very
good that you borrowed that money
and are looking at—or desperately
trying to avoid looking at—serious
debt at the end of law school.
You probably went to law school
with the idea that you were going
to do good things with your law
degree. You were not going to be
one of those people who thought law
school would be a greased rail to the
high life, without a care about who
was paying for the slick clothes and
sports car. You were going to make a
But now the reality of the world
of finance is breathing down your
neck and you’re having second
thoughts. How are you going to
make those payments? Do you know
what legal aid attorneys make? That
is the sort of buyer’s remorse that
snaps you awake long before the sun
comes up…

Don’t give up yet…

You can make a difference in the
world without resigning yourself to a
life of ramen noodles and wine-in-abox. With some good foresight and a
willingness to make some sacrifices,
you can pay back your loans without
sacrificing your ideals.
Many progressive law students
tell themselves that they’re just
going to go to the corporate firm
for a few years, just to make the
big money and pay off the loans so
they can do the public interest work
that they really want to do. But the
golden cage closes quickly, and the
fineries the corporate income affords
become very comfortable. Soon they
are necessities.

Some say they’ll take the highpaying corporate gig, but exercise
their progressive muscles in pro
bono work. It’s an appealing fallacy,
but a fallacy nevertheless. Those
six-digit starting salaries come with
a price tag attached, namely a proportional billable hour requirement.
Even presuming the big firm is going
to let you do the type of pro bono
work you like, when you have to bill
around 40 hours per week, not much
time is left over for doing public
interest work.

You still have options…

Options without those pitfalls exist
for progressive lawyers. Not all
firms are tools of the system. In fact,
many are committed to progressive
causes, like employment and labor
law, environmental law, criminal
defense and civil rights. Even personal injury firms, long denigrated as
“ambulance chasers,” bear a certain
Robin Hood quality when you consider that insurance companies make
obscene profits by short-changing
plaintiffs on legitimate claims.
Firms that handle cases of that
sort are also more likely to let you
do the pro bono work that you really
like. They may not pay you the kind
of money that your less socially concerned colleagues will be making,
but you’ll be getting more hands-on
experience while making a decent
If you are not adverse to working for the government, it presents
an opportunity to work within the
system to preserve the rights the
people still have, or to enforce the
regulations the corporations still
face. Public defender offices are
notoriously underpaid, but they
provide a wealth of experience that
easily translates to private practice.
Regulatory agencies, like the EPA,

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

SEC and FTC, require attorneys
to enforce the existing regulations
and to propose changes to them.
Administrative agencies like the
NLRB and EEOC, and their state
equivalents, need lawyers to defend
employees’ rights. Even prosecution
can be politically progressive when
you work for the US Attorney’s
white-collar crime division. Some
state prosecutors are also trying to
unburden their overcrowded prisons
by creating diversion programs,
which need attorneys for oversight.
Non-profits and community organizations necessarily run on shoestring budgets, so they can’t afford
much more than a subsistence salary
for their attorneys. But they are also
the vanguard of people’s lawyering.
The salaries they pay require one to
live frugally, but the work allows one
to sleep the sleep of the righteous.
It’s undeniable that many people
pick up a student loan payment book
along with the JD at graduation. But
the loans that enable us to attend
law school should not prevent us
from pursuing the sort of work that
inspired us to attend law school in
the first place.
—Dave Saldana, Guild attorney

Fear Not “The Paper Chase”


he very environment of the classroom is intimidating and scary for most of us. It’s confusing
and causes even the most competent and brilliant students to doubt whether they made the right decision.

Mastering the Material

But there is a bright side. Intellectually speaking, the
material is usually not that hard. The concepts are no
more mysterious than unfamiliar subjects you’ve studied
before. Once you get used to the “legalese” and a few
rules, legal analysis is very much like working a puzzle.
The “casebook method,” in a word, sucks. It’s dry
and repetitive, and it confuses you. While studying
cases, concentrate on learning general principles rather
than the specifics of every case. Look for common
themes and topics. Don’t bother trying to find some
kind of overarching logic or grand scheme—it’s not
there. Don’t waste time searching for rationality and
consistency, often rules are contradictory and seemingly
illogical. Remember the words of Justice Holmes: “The
life of the law is not logic but experience.”
If you don’t yet know how, you must learn to budget
your time. Falling behind in class tends to make you
miserable even if you are capable of studying under
extreme pressure. By the same token, too much studying
can be as destructive as too little —especially to your
social life. There is no point in spending hours staring at unintelligible hieroglyphics when your brain has
gone on strike. Studying should be treated as a job: put
in your hours, but don’t let it dominate your life to the
exclusion of all other activities. After you’ve done your
work, put it away. Save some time for more worthwhile
activities—like the Guild.

Performing in Class

One of the most frustrating experiences in the first
year happens when you’re studying a case that grates
against your sense of justice and no one else seems to
notice. It could be a contract case with a low-income
customer getting defrauded by a furniture company, or
a gay man litigating a parental rights case. You have to
make the decision whether or not to “go out on a limb”
and state your mind. It’s your call.
Just keep in mind that by letting comments and generalities go unchallenged, we buy into the philosophy
that nothing can change, and more importantly, we miss
a golden opportunity to educate our classmates and
maybe just maybe—change the way they think about
the law.

The Socratic Method

Many law schools rely heavily on the Socratic method,
as it is portrayed in the movie “The Paper Chase.” This
method has been known to send students home crying and feeling they can’t hack it. But some professors
begin their classes by saying “This is not ‘The Paper
Chase’.” This translates to, “I promise not to humiliate you in front of your classmates, but you’d better
be prepared.” So just relax, read the cases and give it
your best shot. Generally, grades are anonymous and
not based on your classroom performance. It’s just not
worth getting worked up over. Social injustice, now
that’s worth getting worked up over.

So...Why Am I in Law School?

When surrounded by single-minded students intent on
making lots of money by using the law to help others
profit financially, you can begin to feel somewhat lost
or out of place. Just remember, legal skills are extremely
valuable when working with those who are oppressed
and disenfranchised in this society. Once you master the
skills of lawyering, you can use them to help clients and
communities to develop their own strategies for dealing
with the legal system. You will be better able to make a
difference when you leave.

The Struggle Alone and Together

In law school, it’s easy to get the impression that we
are alone in struggling to preserve our progressive
commitment and identity. It’s not true. Even in the
strongest bastions of apathy or conservatism, there are
usually a few like-minded souls. Surviving law school
requires finding people, organizations and work which
can help us maintain our perspective; it’s a hard thing
to do alone. It is critical to locate support networks both
in and outside of school. Doing legal work with real
clients can also help you remember why you wanted to
be a lawyer.
It’s also important to make time for some kind
of political or community work. Being a progressive lawyer means not just thinking in political terms
but aligning and working with movements for social
—Temple Law School NLG Brochure

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Getting Critical


y this point in your school reading, you may be
wondering how it is possible that most every professor clings to the notion of the law as a neutral,
objective force that is the embodiment of justice. In fact,
there are exceptions. Most law schools these days have
at least one critical theorist on the faculty. The professor
may be a critical legal scholar, a critical race theorist, a
feminist legal theorist or a critical queer theorist..
Critical Legal Studies (CLS) has been called a movement, a political location, and a method, among other
things. Whatever its appellation, CLS has become a recognized area of study among law students and professors.
CLS contends that the law is shaped by the political and
moral beliefs of the lawmakers. CLS seeks to show how
the legal order systematically reflects, generates and
reinforces poverty and class inequity as well as sexism,
homophobia and racism. This method of criticism has its
roots in the deconstructionist movement in philosophy.
In a similar fashion, Critical Race Theorists argue that
the “objective” view of a judge is merely the judge’s
privileged ability to protect his or her subjective understanding as the understanding of all people. As the vast
majority of judges are white men, CRT argues that this
privileged viewpoint ignores the experiences and interests
of people of color. There is also a movement within CRT
against the intellectual deconstructionism of CLS in favor
of pursuing the more immediate need for positive rights
Feminist Legal Theory criticizes the “male voice” of
the law. It starts with the premise that the law is created
and taught in a voice that is rigid, limited and without
emotion. In particular, the use of precedent perpetuates
male supremacy. Because the Constitution was written by
men and has, for the most part, been interpreted by men,
reliance on historical precedent is bound to benefit men
first. This has been particularly criticized in the areas of
rape law, pornography regulation and reproductive rights.
Finally, a new group has recently appeared in the field
of Critical Studies.
Queer theory builds upon feminist challenges to the
idea that gender is part of the essential self, and upon
gay/lesbian studies' close examination of the socially
constructed nature of sexual acts and identities. The theory's goal is to destabilize identity categories, which are
designed to identify the "sexed subject" and place individuals within a single restrictive sexual orientation.
Transgender theory emphasizes the importance of
physical embodiment in gender and sexual identity.
Transgender theory integrates this embodiment with the
self and socially constructed aspects of identity through
the lived experiences of those with intersecting identities.

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

Angela Davis and Guild member Doris Walker arrive at Santa Clara
Court for the first day of Davis’ trial on murder charges and aborted
escape of George Jackson, 1972.

Thus, it provides a theoretical basis for reconciling feminist and queer theoretical scholarship with social work
practice and advocacy, with regard not only to issues of
working with transgender people but also to larger issues
of group identity and social oppression.
The following is a partial listing of published critical
legal scholars. They are categorized for the sake of convenience, but the work of many of them focuses on the
intersection between two or more bases for oppression:
On queer/trans studies: Gabriel Arkles, Judith Butler,
Lee Edelman, Leslie Feinberg, Michel Foucault, Rosemary
Hennessy, Robert McRuer, Scott Morgensen, Jose Esteban
Munoz, Jay Prosser, Jasbir Puar, Derek Rosenblum, Eve
Sedgwick, Dean Spade, Eric Stanley, Susan Stryker, Gender
and Sexual Identity: Transcending Feminist and Queer
Theory by Julie Nagoshi, Craig Nagoshi, and Stephan/ie
On race and ethnicity: the works of Robin Barnes; Derrick
Bell; Stephen Carter; Kimberle Crenshaw, Richard Delgado;
Angela Harris; Alex Johnson; Emma Jordan; Kenneth Kalst;
Mary Matsuda; Shelby Steele; Patricia Williams; Iris Marion
Young; and Strangers From Different Shores, edited by Ronald
On feminism and essentialism: the works of Leslie Bender;
Naomi Cahn; Kimberle Crenshaw, Diana Fuss; Angela
Harris; Catherine MacKinnon; Mari Matsuda; Martha
Minow; Deborah Rhode; Elizabeth Spelman; Patricia
Williams; Heather Ruth Wishik; and Iris Marion Young.
And from the general critical legal movement: the works
of Peter Gabel; Duncan Kennedy; Mark Tushnet; and The
Politics of Law, edited by David Kairys.

Legal Indoctrination
result-oriented quest for heterosexual
able-bodied affluent white Christian
male supremacy.
The casebook method forces
students to waste precious time and
energy deciphering murky appellate
opinions, inhibiting the development of the critical perspective
necessary to discern the political
implications of the doctrine. By creating a classroom dynamic of fear
and competition, professors discourage students from raising points
which are tangential to the doctrine
and might stand political (as if
adherence to or departure from
the doctrine itself is not political).
Finally, by testing students only
on the application of legal doctrine
to a given fact pattern, professors
transform students into unprincipled
drones concerned only with the
regurgitation of legal principles.
With only an occasional exception,
casebook education and first-year
legal analysis lend themselves to
total abdication of the values and
interests which led many students to
law school in the first place.

Only you can make your firstyear classes more than the miserable, numbing experience they are
for most people. Now that you’ve
been put on notice of what to watch
out for, you have a responsibility to empower yourself to make
changes. Your professors’ advice to
the contrary, don’t be afraid to use
commercial outlines to learn the
rules more quickly and easily, leaving you more time to think critically
and creatively. Bond with classmates who share your concerns and
insist that meaningful discussion
take place in the classroom. Form
reading groups to discuss articles by
critical scholars.
Finally, in those unavoidable hours
spent with your ten-pound friend,
never lose sight of what lies beyond
the casebook.
—Michael Friedman, Guild attorney

Photo by Heidi Boghosian


f you’re like most first-years,
you probably assume that the
casebooks required for your
classes will be an integral and meaningful part of your education. Sure,
you don’t have a clue as to what
ideas you are supposed to glean and
apply from one case to the next, and
you have an intuitive sense that the
court is failing to discuss relevant
social issues, but you dismiss those
frustrations as the price of learning
to “think like a lawyer.” Having
probably never read a case before
coming to law school, you may feel
strangely seduced by the power and
prestige of standing above a case and
dissecting it under the aloof guidance
of your professor.
A few months into your first
year, when you pause to reflect
on your legal education, you may
feel cheated. You have been. Think
about it—social conflict (as seen
through the lens of legal disputes) is
about real people facing real problems with real consequences awaiting them depending on the resolution of the dispute. Legal education
(as presented through the study
of appellate cases) is about the
manipulation of abstract principles
to maintain the status quo.
Case law promotes the interests
of privileged members of society
in two ways: The traditional tactic
relies on the subordination of real
world outcomes to “the rule of
law.” This approach is emphasized
in first-year classes which tend to
focus on the doctrine, the whole doctrine and nothing but the doctrine,
regardless of the cruel and unfair
consequences of application. The
modern approach is more devious as
it worms its way around decades of
civil rights legislation and case law.
Lessons in Advanced Manipulation
teach students to ignore inconvenient
precedent and rely on selective interpretations of legislative intent in a

Guild National Executive Committee members prepare to march at the 2002 World Economic
Forum protest in New York. From left: David Gespass, Josh Meyers, Dave Saldana and Mark
Fancher. In foreground: Rachel Gendell and Dave Nathanson.
National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Changing the Fabric of the Law


hat does it mean to work “for the people”
when, as people of color, and women of
color, we are working within a field disproportionately dominated by white males? It means our
very presence is an act of resistance.
For people of color in the field of law, we are confronted with a sea of white faces—on both the Left and
the Right—who purport to “speak” for us, to “save” us
from our communities, and to “save” our communities
from themselves. We are “instructed” on who we are and
what we should become in order to be the most “effective” advocates of the law. We are “taught” that when
we speak out on issues of importance to communities
of color, we have “an agenda,” and that the “impartial”
legal advocate must be objective and dispassionate when
discussing issues of justice and equality. But we know
from experience that the law is decidedly not race and
gender neutral, and that the legal system in this country was founded on structures that enshrine racism and
oppression. The language of the law perpetuates race,
class, gender and heterosexual privilege. As a result,
we often find ourselves challenging professors, fellow
students, co-workers—and all too often, our comrades
in the movement—calling on them to confront their own
racism and other exclusionary practices.
As people of color, we are diverse and have complicated identities; we face discrimination, glass ceilings,
sexual harassment, homophobia, classism, and ageism.
We uniquely experience the criminalization and incarceration of brown and black men and women in the criminal
justice system. For those of us who speak out against
oppression, to work in the field of law and take part in
the struggle for justice without analyzing race and privilege would be to disconnect ourselves from our histories
and our experiences in this society. We challenge the
misguided notion that racism is a problem of the past and
that it is our “focus” or “obsession” with race that perpetuates racism. We reject the “color blind” approach to
race in the United States for the distorted and deceptive
ideology that it is. We are forever mindful of the massive
structural change that needs to happen in the law in order
for the law to truly represent the people.
In the face of this constant struggle, the experience
of being a person of color in the field of law can be
alienating, enraging, and isolating—until you realize
that you are a part of a movement of other folks of
color struggling along side with you, and that with our
allies we can push for radical, progressive change in the
law, in our communities, and in our own social justice


National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of
the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was born out of this
resistance—formed out of a pressing need to address
issues of race and equality within the organization. As
progressive people of color, we bring unique experiences to the Guild. We are motivated by the possibilities of
justice and solidarity, and emboldened by the history of
our ancestors who taught us to raise our fists and voices
against racism and oppression. We are empowered by the
reality of a contemporary struggle against racism that is
present and real. We are a reminder that the NLG, like all
other institutions, must look internally at its own patterns
and practices, in order to ensure the social justice ideals
we seek to support on a global level are reflected within
the organization. We realize that our work together and
with our white allies will only help the Guild increase
its capacity to achieve its longtime mission to eradicate
—Ranya Ghuma and Renée Sánchez, Guild attorneys
and TUPOCC Co-Founders

The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC) of the
National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is an alliance of law
students, legal workers, attorneys and other people
of color within the NLG community. The necessity
of such an organization is borne from the historical
context of the capitalist United States where economic prowess is dependent on the furthered and
continued subjugation of people of color, women,
the poor, queers and other oppressed people. We
are dedicated to fostering and supporting the growth
and empowerment of all people of color, particularly within the organization of the NLG. We believe
that meaningful social change and actual justice
can only be attained when people of color and all
other beleaguered communities are more than mere
afterthoughts. Equality must be woven throughout
the fabric of the organization. We seek to further
educate ourselves and inform the larger NLG community about the issues that affect us and investigate
the relationship of these issues to social justice.
We strongly believe that this work cannot be done
unaided, and we encourage support from our allies
throughout the NLG in furtherance of our goals. We
wish to provide all people of color opportunities in
support of these goals, and when such opportunities
are not available, to work with our associates and
allies to create them. We seek to unite ourselves,
represent our communities, achieve our potential,
and function as a powerful force within the NLG, our
chapters, schools, communities, the United States of
America and the global population.

NLG Committees
Animal Rights Activism Committee: engages Guild
members to advocate for changes in the law to recognize
the rights of non-human animals, and to provide legal
support and resources to animal rights and animal welfare
activists. Contact

Labor and Employment Committee: works with firms,
unions, grassroots and employment groups in the progressive labor movement from local to international levels; runs
a newsletter twice yearly; has opportunities for students.

Anti-Racism Committee: strives to make the Guild into
an effective and active anti-racist organization. Contact

Mass Defense Committee: provides legal support to progressive protest movements and demonstrators; trains legal
observers, tracks arrests and police misconduct, and supports demonstrators in court. Contact

Anti-Sexism Committee: agitates for women’s rights in
the NLG, legal profession and larger movement for social
justice. Contact
Committee for Democractic Communications: focuses on the rights of all peoples to a system of media and
communications based upon the principles of democracy
and cultural and informational self-determination. Contact or visit
Disability Rights Committee: works to abolish all disability discrimination and network disability advocates; shares
resources and ideas and takes on student mentorships.
Drug Policy Committee: works on drug policy reform
and organizes related events highlighting how draconian
drug policies affect many other progressive issues the NLG
addresses. Contact
Environmental Justice Committee: aids communities
disproportionately impacted by environmental
hazards and inadequately equipped to counter environmental, public health and safety concerns; engages in research,
legal representation, lobbying, organizing, education, and
direct action. Contact
Housing Committee: aims to provide legal support to
grassroots movements organizing around self-determination, tenants' rights, foreclosure resistance, squatting/
homesteading, homelessness rights, property redistribution,
and other housing and land use issues. Contact housing@
International Committee: works on issues related to the
the UN and international NGOs; writes position papers,
forms delegations, and represents dissidents in national or
international courts. Contact or

Mass Incarceration Committee: challenges the prison
industrial complex in all its forms and advocates for prison
abolition and alternatives to incarceration. Contact
Military Law Task Force: provides support for those in
and out of the military working on military law issues;
trains members to become counselors or military law
attorneys; students have been critical to its work. Contact or visit
National Immigration Project: specializes in the defense
of immigrants facing incarceration and deportation.
Members enjoy technical assistance from the NIP legal
staff and listservs; students join at a discount and network
with lawyers and others in a progressive immigration organization. Visit
Next Generation Committee: involves newer NLG
members in projects, governance, and shaping the Guild’s
future; provides mentorship and mutual support in finding
traditional and alternative modalities of practice and advocacy. Contact
Prison Law Project: connects members nationwide to
share experiences around prison law work; fills prisoner
requests for the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook. Contact
Queer Caucus: connects queer members to
strategize about work and their role in the NLG;
brings a more intersectional analysis to the Guild’s
work for social justice. Contact
The United People of Color Caucus (TUPOCC): alliance
of Guild members identifying as people of color; addresses
their varied concerns, organizes against racism and oppression, and supports efforts of people of color to become
leaders. Contact

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Students in the Guild


aw students currently represent one-third of the Guild’s
membership and carry out a
substantial amount of the programmatic work done in the name of the
NLG. Guild students continually
pour new ideas and energy into the
entire organization and bring their
experiences from other contemporary
movements for social change to their
Guild work. They represent both one
of the most active elements of the
present Guild as well as, literally, the
future of the Guild.
Law students take part in every
level of decision-making in the organization and, since law students were
admitted into the NLG in 1970, they
have consistently pushed for various
kinds of organizational change and
development. Recently, for example,
law students have been at the forefront of efforts to integrate an antiracist perspective into Guild work
and make us more accountable to the
communities we work with.
The Guild organizes on various
levels and each aspect of the Guild is
open to your input and ideas. Here’s
a brief outline of the different ways
law students fit into the Guild’s overall structure:

At the Law School Level:

At the majority of law schools in the
country you can find a Guild presence, challenging the rest of the law
school to “disorient” themselves,
think outside the box, and, above all
else, organize. You should seek out
the Guild chapter at your school as
soon as possible. If the chapter is
inactive, talk to affiliated students
about getting it going again and use
the advice given in this handbook
for starting a new chapter (page 15).
The National Office can also help
you with organizing resources and
recruitment ideas.


Student chapters are widely recognized as crucial to much of the
Guild work that happens from year
to year. Because chapter members
see each other so often, ideas for
and implementation of projects
are often discussed and planned at
length—creating an environment
that is more conducive to coming up
with a well-organized and dynamic
program than if most of the communication was over email or the phone.
This helps form some of our tightest-knit chapters that can mobilize
quickly and efficiently around issues.
For these and other reasons student
chapters have proven to be one of the
National Lawyers Guild’s greatest

At the Regional Level:

At the Local Level:

Organizing happens on many different fronts at the national level.
The national student network
operates as a “student caucus” that
meets formally once a year at the
National Convention. The caucus
elects two Student National Vice
Presidents (SNVPs) who serve a
two-year term and represent the
students to the National Executive
Committee (NEC). The NEC is the
highest decision-making body of the
Guild. It consists of the President,
two Executive Vice-Presidents
(EVPs), Treasurer, three National
Vice Presidents (NVPs), RVPs,
the SNVPs, a Legal Worker Vice
President, two Jailhouse Lawyer
Vice Presidents, representatives
from ten committees (which apply
for a seat each year), and the staff
of the National Office. The NEC
meets quarterly to discuss national
programs and policies as well as any
other pressing issues.

The Guild can be an inroad to relationships with the progressive lawyers, legal workers, and jailhouse
lawyers in your area. If there is an
active chapter in your area, get in
touch! Many chapters have ongoing
programs that you can get involved
with. Some students serve on the
steering committee or board of the
local chapter as a representative from
their law school chapter. Others primarily work with the local chapter,
participating in designing, or coordinating their programs. Meeting the
attorneys and legal workers active
in the local chapter could prove
invaluable to your legal education;
this could be your source of mentors,
volunteer opportunities, future job
prospects, not to mention a fountain
of wealth for your political and social
If there isn’t an active chapter in
your area, chances are that there are
Guild members near you waiting
to be contacted. Call the National
Office to find them, then search them
out and start organizing with them!

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

The Guild is divided geographically into nine regions: Far West,
Northwest, TexOma, Midwest,
Southwest, Mideast, Northeast, MidAtlantic, and Southern. A Regional
Vice-President (RVP), elected by the
region’s members, represents each
geographic area. Every spring each
region holds a regional conference
that students are often very active
in planning. These conferences, and
regional listserves, will be instrumental in meeting and forming relationships with your future comrades, colleagues, and maybe even co-counsels
across your state and in the surrounding states.

At the National Level:

The national student listserv, as
well as the strong personal connections made at regional and national
meetings allow the chapters to
coordinate as a national network.
In 2004, for example, the Drake
University chapter had their membership records and other information subpoenaed by a federal grand
jury and, within a day, students
from across the country were
organizing a national campaign in
response. With more planning, even
bigger things can happen: every
March 1, student chapters from
across the country hold simultaneous events that call for the abolition of the death penalty, they hold
press conferences, have speakers
and speak-outs, and educate their
fellow classmates by tabling or fliering the school. Other student-led
The NLG Chapter at Villanova Law School recruits new members.
projects include a manual for radicalizing law school and a day of
action against rising student debt.
plans the National Convention
Get Involved!
In addition to attention-grabbing
with the host chapter, handles the
There are so many paths the Guild
national actions, chapters support
finances, and helps network all the
can lead you in. What other legal
each other across state lines by
various levels, committees, projects,
organization can provide you with
sharing resources, strategies, and
and people of the organization. The
a life-long series of amazing opporaction plans that worked for their
National Student Organizer who
tunities on top of campus, local,
works at the National Office is in
national, and international commuThe national committees provide
touch with all the student chapters,
nities to call home? Join the Guild
various opportunities for you to be
committees, and members of the
and join thousands of radical, comactive nationally and work with the
NEC and can help you navigate the
mitted individuals who are using the
experts in the areas of law that interdifferent levels of the Guild, answer
law in creative ways to build and
est you. From the Military Law Task
your questions, and provide support.
strengthen the movement for justice.
Force to the Labor and Employment
Committee, there is a niche for you!
At the International Level:
—Traci Yoder, NLG Student
The committees all have email lists
That’s right—it doesn’t stop with
(some have several if they have
the national level. The Guild is a
sub-committees or working groups)
member of several progressive interand meet in person annually at the
national legal coalitions and Guild
National Convention and sometimes
members attend these meetings
in other locations throughout the
across the globe. Our International
year. Many operate their own webCommittee is especially active.
sites and some even have paid staff
We have sent delegations to the
persons. Each committee has a chair
Middle East, Haiti, Cuba, Honduras,
that you can contact about getting
Venezuela, and Mexico (to name
involved; this information is on the
just a few countries) and students
Guild’s website
have been launched into exciting,
There is a national office in
cutting edge legal work through
New York City that operates as the
their participation.
administrative wing of the organization, produces the publications,
National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


No Student Chapter at Your Law School?
Start One!


Photo by Laura Vogel


hapters sometimes grow out
of organizing around a particular political issue. Other
times, informal groups of people
who have come together over frustration with the legal system decide
to affiliate with the Guild. Maybe
a few people seek out like-minded
folks to join in starting a chapter.
Whatever the original impetus, a
small core group of people is necessary to provide the crucial spark to
get the chapter off the ground. A solid
footing is an important prerequisite
for a successful chapter and potential chapters are urged to lay careful
In law school, interest in the Guild
can be stimulated by announcements
of meetings and activities on bulletin
boards, special orientation activities,
and articles in the school newspaper.
If there is no local Guild chapter,
informing and involving legal workers and lawyers can be more difficult. Approach people who represent
political activists, defendants in
capital cases, tenants organizations,
or who are involved in other social
justice-oriented work. Members of a
few chapters are working on ways to
involve jailhouse lawyers as active
members of their chapters. Get
in touch with your Regional Vice
President and the National Office for
ideas and support. Contact nearby
chapters for more ideas.
Participation in regional and
national meetings is an important
aspect of chapter building. Meeting
such a concentration of progressive
legal people can be inspiring to people who feel isolated legally and/or
politically. Those who attend such
meetings often go on to be the more
active chapter members so encouraging attendance from the chapter is
crucial, even if it means raising some
money to help pay for transportation.

Columbia Law Student and Guild member Lisa Knox staffs the registration table
at the NYC DisOrientation 2010.

While programmatic work is the
lifeblood of a Guild chapter, it can
be the most difficult aspect to develop. Several chapters have found one
or two day retreats helpful in brainstorming and planning chapter work.
One way to start is talking with community and other progressive local
groups. Also, seek out members of
the National Conference of Black
Lawyers, NBLSA, La Raza Legal
Alliance, and other sister legal organizations to explore the possibilities
of joint work.
The organizational structure of a
chapter is also important to its success and will be a basic strength of its

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

work. Factors here are strong leadership, active participation in decision
making by all chapter members, and
a regular means of communication.
Chapter structures vary widely: assess
the needs of your particular situation,
and talk with your Regional Vice
President, the National Office, and
members of other chapters for ideas.
Join us in building the Guild, and
progressive legal work around the
—Tom Berning and Candy Culin

Checklist for Starting a New Chapter
q Contact the National Office. Now. They can get you
everything you need to get started, as well as list you
among the student chapters on the website and put
you in touch with Guild contacts in your area so that
you can get involved in local activities. It’s possible
that there are other member students and member
professors already on your campus, and the N.O. will
help you find them. The N.O. exists for support – it
has tons of publications, recruitment resources, and
can help you connect with other Guild members. Ask
the N.O. to also send you Disorientation Handbooks
and other publications for you to hand out at your
first meeting or while tabling campus involvement
q Get recognized on campus. Talk to other student
organizations and your school administration to learn
what is required of a new student group on campus.
If you need to submit a constitution and bylaws to
the student bar association or administrators, see the
student section of or contact the N.O. for
samples. If you need a faculty advisor, try your critical studies department (or an equivalent) or ask the
N.O. if there’s a Guild professor on staff.
q Host your first meeting. Put up fliers with information about the meeting around school and announce
it in as many places as you can: school email lists,
social networking sites, campus web forums, classroom chalkboards—everywhere! If it’s the beginning
of the school year, schedule a time during 1L orientation to table for new members—talk up the Guild
and plug the first meeting.
q Organize around an issue. See what people want
to work on—a campus issue, something in the local
community, a national campaign, or Guild programs.
Once you find an issue or two, get going! It’s important to harness your energy and run with it. Invite
people from nearby NLG chapters and committees,
and search the web for community organizations,
sister legal organizations, and campus groups who are
working on these issues to the initial planning meetings: you’ll build critical relationships, learn what’s
already being done, and plot the best ways to support
current projects as Guild students. In all things social
justice, unity is key.
q Communicate. It is impossible to stress the importance of regular meetings, but realistically, not everyone will make all of them, and not everything will be
resolved at them, either. Contact the National Office
so we can set up an NLG listserv for your new chapter so that organizing can continue even when you
can’t all get together.

q Join the Guild. Applications are available online
and on the last page of this Disorientation Handbook,
so have everyone fill one out and send it with their
sliding scale dues to the N.O. or to the local staffed
chapter if you live in Michigan ($15), Massachusetts
($25), or in the Bay Area ($25). Los Angeles students
join for free as dues are subsidized by LA attorney
q Get organized. Once you have a solid group of
people, elect or organize your decision-making structure. You can organize your “leadership” or chapter
body in whatever way fits best: some chapters elect a
President, VP, Secretary, and Treasurer; some chapters have two chairs and several board members that
oversee projects; and other chapters adopt a collective
model with two contacts chosen to communicate with
and receive notices from the Regional VPs, National
Office, and other Guild entities. Your chapter, your
call. Contact the National Office with the names and
information of two principal contact people for the
new chapter.
q Get what’s coming to you. Law schools earmark
thousands of dollars for student groups and activities.
Once you’re official, talk to your school administration about setting up a budget and securing funds for
all your plans. Also look into funding for travel to
the Guild’s national and regional conventions. And
don’t forget to ask established student groups for
tips—there are almost always tricks to the process.
q Vigilance! There may be people who at first weren’t
interested in the chapter because it didn’t have a clear
identity or defined projects—recruit them! Talk about
what sets the Guild apart from other organizations,
what you are working on, and always encourage others to participate in meetings and events. Make it
clear that they can bring their own ideas and projects
to the group as well.
q Always feel free to call the National Office and your
Regional VP(s) for contact information in your area,
to discuss ideas, or to tell us about the work you are
doing so we can share it with other members. The
national student coordinator is always eager to talk
about radical projects, campaigns, and actions, but
is also there to help you brainstorm around the less
exciting—but equally critical—items on the agenda:
everything from how to run a better meeting to how
to plug into the network. Also see the student page of
the NLG website for organizing tips, fellowship information, sample documents like budgets and bylaws,
and contacts for the other NLG student chapters.

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Radicalizing Your Law School

Ideas for Achieving Curriculum Reform, Integration, Personal
Satisfaction and Rewarding Jobs


n 1946 a National Lawyers Guild article recognized
four crucial reasons to bring law students into the
organization: 1) to effect fundamental law school
curriculum reform by addressing deficiencies with the
case method, lack of contact with practical problems of
the bar, and problem resolving techniques; 2) to provide
fuller personal integration with the profession while still
at law school; 3) to help erase discrimination in legal
education; and 4) to assist with post-graduate employment through the Guild’s Neighborhood Law offices,
since over 80% of the student bodies were veterans.
Sixty years later, the dominant law school curriculum
and teaching methods still fail students. This model is
harmful to young lawyers’ ability to make autonomous
decisions about the way in which they practice law, and
to how justice is administered in this society. It discourages students from thinking independently about what
they can do as lawyers, and instead encourages them to
adhere to a status quo model that may espouse values
contrary to their own.
A better model integrates multiple teaching models—clinical experience, activist experience, professional
mentoring, legal research and writing, creative job opportunities—and instills in students the value of thinking and
functioning autonomously. A more effective law school
curriculum incorporates a critical analysis of the moral
and political content of law. Students are entitled to,
and should demand, a wide range of models of how law
can be practiced, and the tools to comprehend the social
import of their work and the power they possess as students. The legal profession and society at large will benefit from this. Here are several key areas to focus on:
Create Culture that Rewards Rather than Punishes
Activism. Give academic credit for initiating or participating in actions that directly help local communities. For
example, students may invite Guild members to conduct
trainings at law schools on how to serve as legal observers at local events. Students who attend trainings and
serve as legal observers during a semester receive one or
two academic credits by presenting a paper outlining key
points learned at the training and put into practice at documented rallies. More real life training often comes from
this experience than from a semester in the classroom—
you learn how to collect information for possible use at
trial, how to talk with those who have been arrested, and
how to inform them of their rights, including the right to
remain silent.

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

Students can work during winter and spring breaks
with asylum seekers, detainees, and other non-citizens
seeking immigration status in South Florida or on the
U.S./Mexico border by volunteering with agencies at the
forefront in the fight for immigrants’ rights. Arranged
through the Guild’s National Immigration Project, participating students employ advocacy skills in a context quite
different from a clinic or classroom. Students can also
participate in Guild military law trainings and delegations
to other countries. Students should encourage law schools
to give academic credit for such work and to aggressively
promote such endeavors in school literature.
Professors/Placement Offices Provide Examples of
Alternatives to Corporate Jobs. Ask your professors and law school’s job placement office to expand
non-corporate job opportunities. Graduates can advance
the goals of political and social movements by working
as a public defender or for a nonprofit legal services
organization. Non-corporate work isn’t just in the
non-profit sector—consider pro-labor firms, pro-plaintiff firms, or private practice. Certain government jobs
provide opportunities to preserve and/or enforce the
rights of the people or to enforce regulations imposed
on corporations. Examples of agencies with enforcement
opportunities include the Environmental Protection
Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission and
the Federal Trade Commission, the National Labor
Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission, or their state equivalents.
Require Clinical Experience in Public Interest.
Clinical programs should be expanded and mandated.
Some law students never have the experience of seeing
first-hand the needs of their communities or of collaborating with those representing victims of police misconduct, battered women, a person about to be evicted,
or someone whose immigration status jeopardizes their
rights. Such work sensitizes students and fosters a commitment to serving the community after law school. Pro
bono placements can legitimize the practice of working
with underserved communities and reveal its many

(continued on page 17)

Professor David Dominguez describes a clinical seminar
Students Participate in Making Changes. Students
in which students learn the art of “redemptive lawyering.”
should supplement their legal studies by working to effect
In “Redemptive Lawyering: The First (and Missing) Half
positive systemic changes in their law schools. They can
of Legal Education and Law Practice (37 CAL.W.L.REV.
do this in several areas: admissions; financial aid/loan
27 (2000)) he says that lawyers are predominantly conrepayment assistance; student government; faculty/acaceived as “problem solvers” who step in to usher people
demic committees/alumni/public relations; career planning
through an arcane judicial system designed to handle
and faculty diversity. You can learn about the admissions
disputes that could not be resolved privately. Professor
process to ensure that it is asking itself the right questions
Dominguez argues that instead of merely solving proband that the students, faculty and staff understand how
lems, lawyers could empower community organizations to
its admissions process works. Loan repayment programs
tap their own resources as advocates and problem-solvers
are critical to ensure that students opting to pursue pubby building relationships with
lic interest careers can be
other organizations, government
Redemptive lawyering views the lawyer assisted in meeting their
service providers and businesses.
debt obligations. Student
Redemptive lawyering “seeks as an instrument in building a civic
government is a highly
community less dependent on the legal effective way in which to
to cut the legal system down to
size” by creating “a responsible system and more reliant on its own net- promote changes in the
network of caring relationships works to fulfill people’s needs.
curriculum, from allocating
and effective collaboration.”
student activities funds to
Rather than viewing the lawyer
speaking as the “legitimate”
as someone who reacts when someone calls on her to settle
voice of the student body when dealing with administraa dispute, redemptive lawyering views the lawyer as an
tion. Students need to work to ensure that this voice is
instrument in building a civic community less dependent
reflective of the range of interests and people comprising
on the legal system and more reliant on its own networks
the student body. Faculty and academic committees are
to fulfill people’s needs.
influential places to decide what courses are required and
what new faculty will be hired. Often these committees
Law School Administration Should Commit to Hybrid
are unaware that they can play a role in promoting public
Model of Teaching. The Socratic method still has some
issues. Involvement with alumni affairs can be a means of
value in helping students think on their feet, avoid
promoting a more diverse, public-interest-oriented agenda,
intimidation, develop some competency in public speakas many alumni might be interested in helping to fund
ing, and learn to analyze and speak about caselaw. But
such initiatives. Students should maintain pressure on law
it should be combined with the other frequently used
school faculty and administrators to recruit faculty from
problem-solving methods of teaching, in which students
diverse backgrounds.
apply rules of law to written fact patterns, more along
the lines of how practicing attorneys work.
Career Services Work One-on-One with Students to
Legal writing and research should be integrated
Find or Create Jobs That Will Best Suit Their Needs.
into each course, in addition to the introductory course
Law school career development centers should encourrequired in all schools. Writing forces students to think
age students to think creatively about designing their
analytically, express themselves cogently and envision
own public interest jobs (see articles on page 20 & 22).
a real-life audience more similar to real life than the
Schools should balance the push toward corporate pracclassroom environment offers.
tice by incorporating grassroots legal organizations and
Because law professors already serve as role models
alternative bar associations into their career development
for students, and because most students develop proresources. The career center should invite guest speakers
fessionally in their first legal job, law schools should
who have experience in these efforts. Guests should talk
institute a formal mentoring program. In the early days
about their practice, significant cases they have worked
of legal education, apprenticeship in an attorney’s office
on and the challenges and rewards they experience in
provided an alternative to law school before taking the
their day-to-day practices.
bar exam. This real world experience would serve students, and the legal profession, well.
—Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Work For the Guild This Summer!
Over four decades of Haywood Burns Fellowships


he Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowships for
Social and Economic Justice emerged from the
Guild’s established tradition of providing legal,
political and educational support to the important
progressive movements of the day. In 1964, the Guild,
working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating
Committee, sent lawyers and law students south to
provide legal support for the emerging Civil Rights
Movement in what became known as the Mississippi
Summer. In late 1972, New York State indicted 62 prisoners who survived the police assault at the Attica Prison.
None of the police officers were indicted despite detailed
reports of excessive force. In 1973, the Committee was
formed in part to respond to this situation. The Summer
Projects Committee sent law students to assist on the
defense of the Attica Brothers, to support the growing
farmworker struggles in California and to support Native
American treaty rights in the Pacific Northwest.
Over the years, the Summer Projects Committee has
expanded to fund the work of hundreds of students at
organizations that are working to protect and further
the civil and criminal rights of oppressed people in the
United States. In 1996 the program was re-named the
Haywood Burns Memorial Fellowships for Social and
Economic Justice after the death of Haywood Burns,
long-time radical lawyer, law professor, and NLG
Although providing legal work under the direction of
their attorney-organizers is still important, the primary
mission of the Summer Projects is to strengthen the
students’ long-term commitment to promote justice and

On Being a Haywood Burns Fellow:
Erin Wasley, Fellow at the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties
I learned a good deal of relevant, historical information while working on the book, “Landmark
Cases Left Out of Your Textbooks.” Working
at MCLI was a rich and valuable experience.
Working with Ann Ginger was very educational
and inspirational.


National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

Walid F. Kandeel, Fellow at Mumia Abu-Jamal Defense
The most salient legal skill that I have learned
during this Fellowship was about attorney/client
interactions and how to deal with very different
types of clients. I do not think this particular skill
can be taught effectively in a traditional classroom
setting because it requires the element of human
interaction with individuals who have unique life
Michelle Petrotta, Fellow at Farmworker Legal Services
of NY
I learned about client contact skills, the importance of weighing all the benefits and disadvantages of legal options for a client, and the importance
of the client’s involvement in making decisions
regarding his/her involvement in a legal process.
Further, I learned about the plethora of issues
that effect migrant farmworkers – from housing
and labor rights issues to discrimination and
trafficking. This experience solidified my interest
in advocating on behalf of marginalized and disadvantaged populations in my future legal career.
Melissa Bond, Fellow at Sylvia Rivera Law Project
My level of client interaction was invaluable. I
coordinated communication between clients and
other nonprofit groups; such communication skills
are not taught in the classrooms. I’m glad that I
was able to transcend the “academy” this summer.
Dan Barrett, Fellow at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and
I learned to condense difficult research into concise memos, and I learned the value of answering
legal questions directly. These experiences will
help me to become an effective impact litigator.
GLAD offers a fantastic opportunity to see progressive lawyering and I would absolutely recommend the Fellowship to others.

Comments from Project Directors
Kareem Shora of the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee
Ethan, our Fellow, helped ADC assist an additional 50 individuals who contacted ADC for help over
the summer. Ethan was an outstanding, professional, and very helpful Fellow.
Kimmy Sharkey of the Georgia Resource Center
The Fellowship provides GRC with additional
manpower that helps us more effectively represent
men and women on Georgia’s death row. Without
the Fellow, we would have struggled to meet the
emotional, mental needs of some of our clients.
She was a huge help, working with clients to
maintain their trust in GRC and keep them emotionally stable. The Fellow provided extraordinary
assistance during an evidentiary hearing. She
transported witnesses, took care of them during
the hearing, and supported our client’s mother.
Ann Fagan Ginger of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties
It turned out that the Fellows’ lack of knowledge
of important human rights cases led us to write
a new, critical book with their help: “Landmark
Cases Left Out of Your Textbooks.”
Gabriel Arkles of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project
The program allows us to recruit law students to
work here for the summer who might not have
applied otherwise or who might not have been
able to work here because of lack of funding. Both
years we have found exceptional Fellows of color
who could not have taken an unpaid internship.
Both years they were fluent Spanish speakers,
greatly improving our services to Spanish speaking clients.
Jeffrey Light of Patients Not Patents
Our Fellow assisted in preparing an amicus brief
and challenging the validity of a patent on a
derivative of thalidomide useful for treating cancer and other diseases. Both of these projects were
time-sensitive and could not have been completed
without the Fellow’s help.

Haywood Burns speaking to the media outside Roosevelt Hospital,
October 1971. Emerging from the recovery room where H. Rap Brown
was supposedly recuperating from a gunshot wound, Burns refused to
say whether the patient he saw was or was not Brown.

Applying for Fellowships
Application information on the summer
Fellowships will be posted on the NLG
website each year in November.
Check for more information on the
Fellows, the history of the Fellowships
and upcoming due dates.
for more information.

A note on Fellowship options: We encourage applicants
to identify grassroots and non-traditional work opportunities for which there is a serious current societal need.
This could be a small non-profit, a short-staffed community law firm, or an organizing campaign that needs
legal assistance. We generally do not provide funding
for work at large non-profits or agencies that receive
government funding, though we have made some exceptions if the agencies are severely under-funded or if the
project is especially compelling.

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Alternative Forms of Law Practice


National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

They gave us the room at a low rent until we established
ourselves. We also shared their copying machine and
their library. I do not mean that there are no struggles.
There were times when we did not have enough money,
but it was not as difficult as it is depicted in most law
schools and through the legal profession. We mostly had
difficulty imagining that the phone would ring — who
would want us? — but it did. We found that most people
choose lawyers based on recommendations from friends
and from other lawyers. Clients recommend you if you do
a good job, which includes treating people with respect
and concern as well as being diligent and competent in
one’s research and courtroom performance.
Moreover, for me this is just a better way to live. It is
not necessarily better for everybody, of course, but
I would rather spend most of my day talking to people
who have, for example, organized a group to label toxic
substances in the work place, or to oppose the nuclear
arms race. I generally like these people; they are interesting, the things they care about and work on are important
to me, and they are fun to have lunch with. I would rather
talk to and associate with them for the majority of my

Photo by Thom Cincotta


want to say a word about law practice, and I have
a simple message: there are attractive, rewarding alternatives to the top corporate and business
oriented legal jobs. I am disturbed by the message so
frequently circulated around the law schools these days.
Corporate work is depicted as the most interesting and
challenging, while working for the poor, for working
people, or for the environment is considered dull and
for do-gooders. To me, quite the opposite is true. I
will focus on my experience in a small law office that
handles mainly civil rights and civil liberties cases,
although there are a variety of other alternatives.
I have practiced in Philadelphia for over twenty years
with a firm consisting of two or three lawyers and one
legal worker or paralegal, and we have tried to make our
work comport with our beliefs as closely as we can. I
think it is possible for anyone with a legal education and
a license to do this. We do not always succeed; there are
compromises and difficulties, and nothing is perfect. But
we have found, as have others, mainly those associated
with the National Lawyers Guild, that it is possible to
follow your ideals and to make a quite decent income and
lead a decent life.
I am not talking about subsistence. I mean a comfortable middle-class existence. People pay enormous
amounts of money for lawyers. It is not difficult to make
a lot of money and charge reasonable rates for the normal
things that lawyers do. When I first started, we worked
primarily on anti-war and civil-rights and civil-liberties
cases, but one way we felt we could earn money immediately was by handling consensual divorces. We learned
how to do divorce cases, and we wound up divorcing
many of our friends. The fees we charged, as well as our
use of paralegals, got us in a little trouble with the local
bar. The bar had a recommended schedule of fees for various legal services, and they did not like anyone charging
less for those services. As I remember, the recommended
fee for a consensual divorce was about $600 in 1971, the
work for which consisted of an interview, completion of
a few forms and an appearance at a pro forma hearing.
We charged $300. Our clients were billed at a decent rate,
and we made a reasonable income while we pursued the
cases we wanted.
I realize that jobs are difficult to find, but that just
forces new lawyers and law students to be particularly
creative. There are many ways to get started. When we
started, we approached a firm of criminal lawyers we
knew and asked them if we could rent the extra room
they had at the end of their suite. They were very happy
to rent it. They liked the kind of work we were going to
do; it was different from theirs, but they liked the idea.

NLG Treasurer Roxana Orrell observes a protest against Arizona's
SB 1070 in July 2010. The protest, which took place outside the
Maricopa County Sheriff's office, drew Legal Observers from the local
Guild chapter as well as Los Angeles, Texas, Massachusetts, and New

Photo by Paul Aiken

University of Colorado student Dustin Craun addresses student anti-war demonstrators occupying the University Memorial Center atrium. The CU
Guild chapter was instrumental in helping the demonstrators deal with abuses by the local police deparment.

work day than with some corporate executive who
wants me to find a tax break for him. I do not find greed
endearing, and I do not find the work involved in figuring out a tax break for someone who is already quite sufficiently rich either interesting or important. Many of the
people in my law school class thought they had to do work
they did not really care about. They did this work for higher status, or higher pay, or often without thinking. That
seems to be the motivation of most law students today, but
people who follow that path do not seem very happy with
it. Practicing law is really not that much fun in itself.
I have never heard of anyone who practices law as a
hobby. There is an enormous amount of paper work and
pressure, it is tedious, it requires long hours, and it is often
frustrating. Each judge’s opinion is written as if it embodies truth and reason, but often you cannot tell whether a
judge will adopt some seemingly ridiculous distinction.
Practice can be exciting and fun; but if you practice year
after year, and if it has no purpose that means something
to you, it is hard to sustain.

So I think alternative legal practice is fun. It is more
interesting and more challenging, you deal with weightier social issues, and you can provide real help to people
and groups you care about. I do not mean that one should
do this kind of work out of guilt. To me, it is simply a
question of how you want to live and taking control of
your life.
—David Kairys, Guild attorney, Professor of Law
at Temple University in Philadelphia, editor of
The Politics of Law: A Progessive Critique, and author of
Philadelphia Freedom: Memoirs of a Civil Rights Lawyer.
This article is reprinted from 52 George Washington Law
Review 243 (1984).

1. For the first three years after graduating from law school, I was on a fellowship and primarily practiced as a public defender,
so I (and my partner) had litigation experience before starting the firm.
2. Because Pennsylvania law has been influenced by Quakers, it was and is possible to marry there without a license or any state
involvement, so we also helped create legally binding marriages on terms a couple could specify themselves.

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


Create Your Own Public Interest Job


I was out of law school for less than a year when we
formally pulled Health Access together. Health Access is a
coalition which emerged from a statewide citizen’s effort
to stop patient dumping in California. I had been active
in this movement during my last two years of law school.
The hazardous transfers of uninsured patients from private
emergency rooms to larger problems of denied health care
access. Galvanized by the unifying, pro-active momentum
spawned by the stop patient dumping effort, a core of
organizations convened Health Access under the organizational umbrella of Public Advocates, a San Francisco based
public interest law firm. We united seniors, unions, health
activists, policy experts, civil rights organizations, minority
groups, health workers, providers and grassroots organizations. We celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2007 and I am
proud to say that Health Access is still going strong, leading the fight for quality, affordable healthcare.
—Maryann O’Sullivan, Founder of Health Access, CA

Photo courtesy of Granma

hen I began law school I never imagined that,
two years out, I would consider fundraising to
have become one of my most valuable skills.
Competing for the few available public interest law positions can be very tough — especially for someone just out
of school. But since the current resources devoted to public
interest work do not begin to match the needs in the community, students should recognize finding their own funding is an especially effective route to take. Raising money
has enabled me to set up an organization to do exactly the
kind of advocacy work I hoped to do on issues of access to
health care.
Often, law students are fearful about pursuing a public
interest direction because of the intense competition for
existing jobs. My advice: find a need (we all know there’s
plenty of that around), focus your efforts, be visionary
about how to fill it, build allies, teach people that your
interests are their interests, and organize coalitions. Work
hard — you’ll impress those around you with your enthusiasm and you’ll increase the opportunities to learn what it is
you do best. If you’re good at what you do, lots of people
will want to hire you, but they won’t have the money. Your
first job may be to raise the money that will allow an existing organization to increase their activities to hire you. This
strategy has worked for me and for Health Access.

Guild members marched with one million Cubans in Havana in October 2000 to protest the U.S. blockade against Cuba. Bruce Nestor (left)
holds the Guild banner, as Karen Jo Koonan (right) and Cathy Dreyfuss (far right) also lead
the Guild contingent.


National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook

Why Join the Guild?

Photo by Tess Scheflan


he National Lawyers Guild has a rich and long
history of being a central part of efforts for social
justice. While we are very proud of this history,
we want you to join the Guild because of its exciting
future. Join the Guild because it continues to play a crucial role in social justice struggles. Join the Guild because
we need your passion and creativity if we are to continue
to adapt in this ever-changing political climate.
The National Lawyers Guild is a national legal organization committed to social change, human rights, and
peace. We are different from other legal organizations
because our first commitment is to progressive structural change to our current system of government. Our
work supports the efforts of communities organizing
themselves by being a legal resource to their work for
social change and self-determination, while also working
to make direct change through the legal system. This is
different from legal organizations that prioritize the Bill
of Rights, or lobby elected officials. Because the Guild
is building relationships with communities on the front
lines of campaigns for social justice, we also know that it
is important to employ a variety of legal and political tactics in order to enact change. Membership in the Guild is
focused on the legal community; we are made up of legal
workers, attorneys, law students and jailhouse lawyers.
This positions us uniquely as one of a few national legal
associations with social justice politics. We encourage
members of the Guild to be making long-term linkages
with minority bar associations (bar associations of people
of color, women, LGBTQ people and others) as a way to
make connections between the work that all of us do.
The network that the Guild provides is integral to the
success and sustainability of people’s lawyers. Many of us
know the story of the law student who goes to school with
the goal of changing the world, but isn’t able to live and
work with other progressive students. Slowly these well-intentioned people aren’t able to sustain their work without a
community of people to build and learn with; without the
support and dialogue with other progressive attorneys they
eventually burn out and become de-politicized. Fighting
for social justice cannot be done alone.
Involvement in the Guild includes students in a nationwide network of progressive legal people with broad
experience in key areas of people’s law. Guild members
are at the forefront of the legal battles surrounding AIDS,
violence—related to race, gender, sexuality or nationality,
civil rights, military law, immigration law, housing and
economic rights, environmental law and international
human rights, among others. Through the Guild students
have the opportunity to have mentors, be on listservs that
provide substantive work ideas, discuss legal strategies
and share ideas, and find people to initiate new projects

Guild member Steven Toff (left) serves as an NLG Legal Observer
during October mass arrests at Occupy Boston.

with. This network also proves useful to Guild members in
finding jobs, in answering questions about how to proceed
in various legal problems and in supporting progressive
lawyers when they need it most.
The Guild is larger than the sum of its parts—meaning that as a whole we hold more power and accomplish
more than as just a loosely affiliated network of people.
We cannot overlook the importance of the Guild as a
national organization of legal people, and the impact that
we can have on the political development of this country.
The Guild is a place where your work, whether it is on a
national scale or in your own neighborhood, is linked to
the work of thousands of other members of the legal community.
Considering all that the Guild has to offer, the cost
of membership is very low. Law student membership is
about the price of a night out on the town. In addition
to being a member of an incredible organization, you
receive Guild Notes, other student publications such as
this handbook, your local chapter’s newsletter, information on Guild publications and committees, voting rights
at the national convention and in your local chapter, and
much more information about progressive legal organizations and issues.
—Ian Brannigan, former NLG National Membership

National Lawyers Guild Disorientation Handbook


NLG Membership Information




This is your q home q office

q YES, add me to the Guild’s listserv, NLG-Announcements
q YES, add me to the NLG student listserv (students only)
Other Optional Personal Information:
(race, gender, age, sexuality, etc.)
Professional Status (Check all that apply): qAttorney q Legal Worker q Law Student
Law School:

q Jailhouse Lawyer

Year of Graduation:

Referral to NLG by

NLG Committees

(please check off committees you would like to join and if dues are required add them to your total payment.)
q Amicus Committee (by application only)
q Animal Rights Activism Committee
q Anti-Racism Committee ($12)
q Anti-Sexism Committee
q Committee on Democratic Communications
($35; $15 for students)
q Cuba Subcommittee ($10)
q Disability Rights Committee ($15)
q Drug Policy Project
q Environmental Justice Committee
Housing Committee
q International Committee
($25; $15 for students)

q Labor & Employment Committee
($35; $15 for students)
q Legal Workers Committee
q Mass Defense Committee
q Mass Incarceration Committee
q Middle East Subcommittee ($15)
q Military Law Task Force ($25, includes newsletter)
q Next Generation Committee
q Prison Law Project
($10; free for Jailhouse Lawyers)
q Queer Caucus
q Task Force on the Americas
q The United People Of Color Caucus (TUPOCC)
($15-30 Sliding Scale)

NLG Dues Schedule*
Law Students $20-50
New member attorneys $60
New member legal workers $60
Jailhouse Lawyers No Dues ($7.50 to receive a year of Guild Notes)
*If your law school is in a staffed chapter (Michigan, Massachusetts, San Francisco/Bay Area, New York City, or Los Angeles)
contact that chapter directly for membership information. Dues rates vary for the staffed chapters.

q Visa

q MasterCard

q Check enclosed (make checks payable to National Lawyers Guild)

Card #:
Amount: $

Exp. Date:
National Lawyers Guild 132 Nassau Street, Rm. 922, New York, NY 10038
phone: (212) 679-5100 fax: (212) 679-2811

Please tear out this completed membership form and send to the National Office.


National Executive Committee
Executive Committee Regional Vice Presidents
President Far West

Executive Vice Presidents Mid-Atlantic
National Vice Presidents Northeast Northwest
National Legal Worker VP South
National Law Student VPs Southwest


National Office Staff
Executive Director

Student Organizer Mass Defense Coordinator
Communications Coordinator Membership Coordinator

National Lawyers Guild Foundation
132 Nassau Street, Rm. 922, New York, NY 10038
tel: (212) 679-5100 fax: (212) 679-2811

“...lawyers, law students, legal workers and
jailhouse the service of the people...”
— Preamble to the NLG Constitution

national lawyers guild foundation
132 Nassau Street, Rm. 922
New York, NY 10038
Cover design: LLoyd Miller

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