“Rebellious” is a word not often associated with the legal profession. Nevertheless, the RebLaw Scotland movement has proven that there might be a desire amongst students, academics, and young professionals for something of a rebrand. The RebLaw movement, which originated in the US, has now found a home in Scotland at the University of Glasgow, led by trainee solicitors Mairi McAllan, Katy Macaskill and Seonaid Stevenson.

“Like most law students, I studied law because I care about social justice,” Stevenson says. “When I attended the RebLaw conference in London, I knew it was exactly the kind of lawyering I wanted to fling myself into, heart and soul. Mairi, Katy and I felt that lawyers, in particular law students and junior professionals, needed a place to come together to discuss how we can use our skillset to tackle pressing social justice challenges. We felt the Scottish legal community would strongly identify with and support the concept of rebellious lawyering.”

It is a common public misconception that lawyers become lawyers for financial gain. In fact, if that were true, many would be sorely disappointed. Lawyers for the large part, become lawyers because they want to do good. They want to uphold justice, protect the vulnerable, challenge the status quo, and agitate for change. But whilst most lawyers entered the profession to make a difference, this is often forgotten in the routine of daily practice. The RebLaw Scotland movement is bringing together the next generation ‘rebel lawyers’ to become a force for social good, positive change, and active rebellion. To remind lawyers why they became lawyers.

What is rebellious lawyering?

The RebLaw movement began in the US, founded by US lawyer and UCLA academic Gerry Lopez. Lopez has dedicated his life to ‘rebellious lawyering’, writing his book ‘Rebellious Lawyering: one Chicano’s vision of progressive law practice’ in 1992. The book inspired a grass-roots movement amongst students, academics and lawyers to serve their community’s most vulnerable in the way they best knew how – through law. The principle behind the RebLaw movement is for lawyers to use their legal skills as an instrument for change and to empower underserved communities by improving access to justice.

As a result of the overwhelming interest in rebellious lawyering, Yale’s annual RebLaw conference has become the largest student-run public interest conference in the US.
In 2016, RebLaw came to the UK for the first time, hosted by the University of Law in London, and in 2017 it came to Scotland.

RebLaw Scotland 2017

RebLaw Scotland 2017 sold out within a matter of days.

The overwhelming response from the Scottish legal community is testament to the passion of our lawyers. The first conference, held at the University of Glasgow on 11 November 2017, saw more than 150 delegates from a variety of legal backgrounds descend on Glasgow University. Speakers included the University’s Rector, Aamer Anwar, and representatives from the Scottish Refugee Council, Shelter Scotland, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and a number of law centres including Govan Law Centre and JustRight Scotland. There were nine panels throughout the day, discussing topics such as combating domestic abuse, the gender pay gap, and legal responses to homelessness. McAllan, a trainee solicitor who recently ran for election in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale said – “There was a clear desire in the room to do more, try harder and think smarter about how we can serve underserved communities. Being a lawyer is a huge privilege and we need to think about  how we can use our privilege to benefit our communities.”

Moving forward, there are big and disruptive plans to continue with the movement. RebLaw Scotland wishes to involve as many rebellious lawyers as possible, with students and junior professionals being guided by the experience and expertise of qualified lawyers and seasoned academics. Further events are already planned for this year, including an exhibition to showcase the lives and work of rebellious lawyers throughout Scotland’s history. Furthermore, RebLaw is fully embracing the digital revolution, with plans to build an online law clinic, addressing common legal problems.

“Volunteering at law clinics has shown us that many problems raise their head repeatedly – whether that is dealing with rogue landlords or claims for unfair dismissal, the same issues do crop up time and again,” says Macaskill, who regularly volunteers at law clinics in Glasgow. “We want to provide plain language guides to common legal problems. Commercial law firms produce excellent factsheets on all manner of commercial legal issues; there is no reason why we can’t do the same for the problems faced by vulnerable communities.”

Whilst high-quality, face-to-face legal advice is irreplaceable, in an age of unprecedented knowledge sharing it is unthinkable that basic legal understanding should be a benefit exclusive to the privileged. An online legal clinic, such as the one proposed by RebLaw, would be of great assistance to those with limited funds looking to navigate the complex legal landscape.

We warmly welcome this initiative to improve access to justice, legal equality, and knowledge sharing. RebLaw Scotland, which not only aims to better the lives of those less fortunate, but to inspire a passion for justice in young lawyers is an excellent platform for discussion of key legal issues. We look forward to seeing what comes next for the movement, and continuing to challenge the Scottish legal sector positive, disruptive change.