Rachel Moran
Rachel F. Moran, law school founding faculty member, calls for the return of the citizen-lawyer. Daniel A. Anderson / UCI

Rachel F. Moran is on a mission.

As a founding faculty member at the University of California, Irvine School of Law and the newly elected president of the Association of American Law Schools, she seeks the return of the citizen-lawyer, who not only represents clients but helps improve society.

“The vaunted image of the citizen-lawyer, who deploys legal skills to serve the common good, has thoroughly disappeared from the popular imagination. Lawyers are seen as defending clients, not building societies,” writes Moran in a January op-ed piece for The National Law Journal.

“Lawyers can serve society in a number of ways. Some take on important cases on a pro bono basis. Others practice at public-interest firms. Still others become government officials, whether as judges, legislators, regulators, prosecutors or public defenders,” she says. “They also can volunteer their time to educate others about the law, by helping out with local moot-court programs or lecturing at an elementary or secondary school on Law Day.”

Moran, who has taught for 25 years at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, sees the primary role of the AALS and its 160 member schools as inspiring law students to heed this call to public service. She also plans to cultivate future citizen-lawyers at UCI:

“From its inception, the law school has made public service an integral part of its mission. The hope is that from the moment students arrive, they’ll be steeped in a tradition of community service. To that end, they’ll take a first-year course on the legal profession that helps them reflect on their role in society. After that, there will be opportunities to shape a professional identity, for instance, by conferring with lawyer-mentors or by representing clients in law school clinics.

“Because the founding class has full-tuition scholarships, each member will enjoy the freedom to pursue career choices that are not driven by the need to pay off legal education debts. Our hope is that this largesse will enable some graduates to pursue different paths, whether to the world of public interest, government or something entirely new.”

While the notion of a citizen-lawyer may strike some as old-fashioned, Moran argues that today’s turbulent economic and political climate makes it an ideal time for lawyers to step up.

“As Americans lose jobs and homes, they better appreciate social safety nets that ensure minimum levels of security and dignity,” she writes in the opinion piece. “People want advice from experts on law and policy about how to address the grave challenges we face. Legal principles — transparency, the individual’s right to seek relief, deference to courts and legislatures, and the necessity for administrative oversight — are ascendant.”

Just as President Roosevelt during the Great Depression called upon a phalanx of lawyers to invent new methods and institutions for coping with social ills, Moran says, the Obama administration should summon lawyers to apply their critical-thinking and legal skills in overseeing the economic recovery. They could help prevent waste and misappropriation of the billions of tax dollars being spent to reinvigorate the economy.

“The model of the citizen-lawyer has been missing in action. I’m trying to resurrect it,” she says. “And I hope UCI’s commitment to service will make it an ideal place to advance this vision.”

Originally published in Zotzine Vol. 1, Iss. 7