Hastings Law Journal
Poverty Law Narratives: The Critical Practice and Theory of Receiving and Translating Client Stories
In critical exploration of the dissonance between the law, lawyers, and the disempowered, recent inquiries have given rise to new, enriched theories about the knowledge and discourse of the poverty lawyer. Critical scholars and practitioners are engaged in a search for theoretical and practical approaches to working for and with clients who have perspectives, needs, values, and differences that do not fit neatly into traditional conceptions of legal process and doctrine. This Article undertakes a "critical storytelling approach" to poverty law and practice.
Drawing upon critical theory, including feminist and critical race, as well as law and literature scholarship and everyday practice and experience, Mr. Gilkerson takes the perspective of the poverty lawyer in addressing four different, though related, story types: (1) stories told by clients (and received by lawyers); (2) stories told by lawyers (and received by legal decisionmakers); (3) universalized narratives in the law that assign characteristics and define people based on their social positions or circumstances; and (4) stories legal decisionmakers tell to justify their decisions or opinions. After discussing these story types, the Article applies the critical storytelling analysis to a case study of a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of homeless women and their children to challenge a state agency regulation.
Rather than transforming and recomposing the client's story to fit within precedent and legal narratives, the "lawyer as translator" recognizes differences between her client's story and legal narratives and highlights that nonfit in advocacy. These client narratives hold the potential to make legal decisionmakers aware of and acknowledge-in opportunities such as the exercise of discretion, balancing tests, and formal and informal hearings- perspectives excluded from legal principles, doctrines, and precedent. In this way, client narratives revealed during advocacy may hold the power to reform or correct the law.
Christopher P. Gilkerson,
Poverty Law Narratives: The Critical Practice and Theory of Receiving and Translating Client Stories,
43 Hastings L.J. 861
Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_law_journal/vol43/iss4/5