Review of Luca Falciola’s Up Against the Law: Radical Lawyers and Social Movements, 1960s–1970s

Reviewed by Kat Brausch

Summer 2020: Masses of protesters filled the streets, wearing bandanas and homemade masks, fists aloft. The lime green hats of legal observers dotted the crowds, watching intently for signs of police abuses, writing down the names of those arrested when they could. In air-conditioned courtrooms, lawyers represented those protestors, defending victims of mass arrests and filing lawsuits in the wake of law enforcement violence. In 2020, the National Lawyers Guild once more rose to the occasion. The NLG, founded in 1937 as an alternative bar association in opposition to the racist and anti-New Deal ABA, has participated in every major left-wing, anti-racist social movement since. Its 2020 support of the Black Lives Matter movement contributed to the growing conversation over a lawyer’s role in confronting state violence, while the resurgence of popular left-wing politics arising with the Sanders campaign brought with it new discussions about the roles of power and political economy in the law. The NLG’s prominence at the forefront of the legal left has led to questions both within and outside the organization: What is the relationship between lawyers and social movements? What is the role of activist lawyers? The time has never been so ripe for revisiting the legacy of the National Lawyers Guild.