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Seattle J. for Soc. Just.


A longtime social justice activist and clinical professor, Douglas Colbert,2 recently sought information from colleagues across the country3 for the second part of an important project examining a lawyer’s ethical obligation to engage in pro bono work during a time of crisis, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or 9/11.4 He sent out surveys to learn which schools actually taught the Preamble to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct in ethics or other courses.5 As Professor Colbert’s letter explained, the Preamble states: “A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the court, and a public citizen having special responsibilities for the quality of justice.”6 I was thrilled to learn that Professor Colbert—a mentor to many newer clinicians like myself—was interested in an issue that I had begun to explore in my own work; that is, how the Preamble’s public citizen lawyer message should be used in law school teaching.7 Indeed, I was surprised to find that while reams had been written about lawyers as representatives of individual clients and officers of the court, very little was said about the role and responsibilities of lawyers or law students as public citizens.8 Yet as Professor Colbert’s inquiry suggests, the Preamble gives us a lot to talk about.9 My interest in the Preamble is not so much rooted in the concept of the delivery of pro bono representation as it is on the public citizen lawyer’s affirmative responsibility to press for legal reform.10 And in contrast to focusing on catastrophic events as catalysts for change, this essay is concerned with teaching students about responding to the everyday travesties and inequities they may encounter in our courts and legal system. Thus, it can be seen as a response to Professor Colbert’s important call to action—providing one approach to Preamble teaching—and supporting him in his curricular reform efforts. This essay outlines the ways in which I have tried to convey to students the importance of the Preamble’s message of lawyer as public citizen