Ashoka Fellow Purvi Shah, founder of the Movement Law Lab, learned from years of experience representing powerful movements for change that a legal system is only as good as its ability to ensure a world that is better for the people and the planet. Now, as Covid-19 tests America’s economic vitality and social cohesion, Purvi points not only to the need for more social justice lawyers, but new tactics and alliances to protect fairness and human dignity. Ashoka’s Lorena García Durán sat down with her to learn more.
The reality is that the vast majority of our profession sits on the sidelines of social change. Only 3% of America’s 1.3 million lawyers work on issues of justice and poverty. This means the majority of the legal profession represents the interests of the powerful versus the powerless. Our profession is in a crisis of leadership, culture and values.
Movement Law Lab is reversing this. We are supporting a new generation of lawyers and legal organizations to work alongside progressive movements for change. I believe that lawyers can be huge assets to social change—but we need to transform the way we think, work, and collaborate.
Rather than simply winning cases, movement lawyers deploy law strategically to change culture, systems, and power. We see ourselves as long-term partners to grassroots leaders and broader movements for change.
Some say that the pandemic has disrupted normal life but I say it’s brought to the surface precisely what is wrong with normal life for millions of Americans. Now that we see how interconnected we all are, we have an opportunity to transform our broader culture and create a society based on principles of fairness and dignity.
I believe this can be an unprecedented time to think big and forge new collaborations between people with a range of expertise—business, social justice, technology, law, culture—to work together to design a new kind of economic system and society that preserves human life and dignity.