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Friday, September 13, 2013 University of Puerto Rico Law School Oath-taking for Students of the Legal Aid


A Call to be Moved:
Tracy Robinson Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies

An Address to Legal Aid Clinic Students

The Honorable Luis F. Estrella, associate judge of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, Professor Prof. Vivian Neptune Rivera, Dean, Vice Deans, The Director of the Legal Aid Clinic , Professors all, including clinicians Law students being inducted into the Programme, Your friends and family, I want to express my gratitude to your Director, Mariluz Jimnez for her invitation to talk with you today as you take your oath. We have been talking about this visit for a year now. I consider this visit and the multiple invitations I have received from the University of Puerto Rico to meet, talk with and teach and break bread here with the highest regard. They come out of a series of pan-Caribbean conversations that have taken place over the last two years that I have been a part of. But they go back much longer as a former Dean here has reminded me. I owe my presence in Puerto Rico to Professor Efrn Rivera. We met two years ago at a meeting of Caribbean scholars in Cuba working on issues of sexuality. We had the pleasure of Professor Riveras presence at University of the West Indies in Jamaica.1 I am glad to be

1 See Efrn Rivera Ramos, Colonialism and the Constitution. Paper presented at Faculty of Law, University of

the West Indies, Mona Campus, April 19, 2013.

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here and my hope is that in time, it wont be us moving but you, our students, between the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and possibly even the campuses of UWI at Barbados and Trinidad. We are neighbours who have been estranged by language and transportation and multiple and ongoing colonisations for too long. I am very impressed by what you have accomplished in 100 years. You have a well deserved reputation as a premier choice for Puerto Ricans for law school. You have used externships, clinics, exchanges to build a legal cosmopolitanism that is absolutely necessary for the development of law today. I encourage us all to think of that cosmopolitanism even further beyond the north-south axis and get to know our neighbours in the Caribbean better. But, at the same time you have managed to ground law as an applied discipline constructed around serving others and observing clearly defined ethical principles. In your over fifty years of clinical legal education you have realised over a dozen special interests: general civil and criminal practice, human rights, immigration, environmental justice, mediation, economic community development, employment, juvenile law, intellectual property and internet law. In my few days here I have had the privilege meeting many of you, continuing my conversations with my friend Efrn, had the privilege of long chats with your Dean about reconnecting our universities, plenty others with my class. Your Director Mariluz Jimenez, has taken charge of me and immediately struck me as a woman who gets things done. I have the greatest respect for that work she does in guiding experiential learning and as a translator of sorts of legal ideas into concrete programmes led by expert lawyers. I also met with Nora Vargas Acosta and her clinic who organised a conversation on Wednesday here and heard much more about the important work being done to vindicate the rights of LGBTI persons in Puerto Rico through one of your clinics. I wish to congratulate you all as clinicians and students for your work in securing access to justice for all and ensuring economic and social justice for many more Puerto Ricans.

Doing law
In England, which our legal education in the Anglophone Caribbean was patterned on, they talk about reading law when you do a law degree. Today our students are more like to say 2 | P a g e

they are studying or doing law. But frankly it is only when you embark on a clinical or applied law programme like this one that law become an active verband we move from reading or studying it to doing law. In some senses though, the business of really doing law, that you have embarked on today, serves a critical function. It turns a reflective mirror or lens on law itself. In doing law, you get to see law. It is possible to read law and study it , be filled to the brim with the analytical skills we law teachers likedeconstructing a judgment, testing coherency in the reasoning, reconstructing different types of legal interpretationwithout having cultivated critical thinking that philosopher Martha Nussbaum talks about.2 Clinical legal education gives you the chance to not just see what law can do, but to see law, and you in it. It should instigate self reflection and a rigorous self accountability. Some of our standard ways of teaching law leave us disembodied or unsure what to do with ourselves, where to put ourselves amongst the cases we read. Clinical legal education puts us in the equation and disrupts what can seem like a well formed discipline in which we throw the ball from side to side, as Nussbaum says, trading claims and counterclaims to ask her question about becoming citizens who can really reason and imaginatively consider our choices for each other.3

The unreadiness
I visited Puerto Rico one other time before this. It was in 1991, and the end of my Bachelor of Laws degree, in the days when Caribbean airlines travelled the region, places we had interests, family and connections. In our system, unlike yours, law is an undergraduate degree and I was twenty one then and about to start what we call law school. The two year professional programme that provides a basis for being called to the Bar virtually everywhere in the English speaking Caribbean. A year into that programme I went to Oxford to do the Bachelor of Civil Law, their graduate law programme and was back in Jamaica three years later, having spent a year doing an LLM in the United States, to finish the second year of law school. Although I set up with others at law school my first human
3 Ibid.

2 Martha Nussbaum, Education for Profit, Education for Freedom (2009) Summer Liberal Education 6.

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rights organisation, it was called Conscience, I hardly knew throughout these eight years of studying law what a life of work would look like, far less what my lifes work might be. I tell you this because I think that uncertainty is fine. Work should be a journey on continued learning and exploration. It is not always a clear destination. I could not anticipate where I might be now and I certainly dont know where I will be twenty years from now. Nothing is wrong with a plan but it isnt necessary or always useful for our self development or in making a difference. Nobel Laureate and St. Lucian poet, Derek Walcott says in one of his poems, Oddjob the Bull Terrier, You prepare for one sorrow, but another comes. It is not like the weather, you cannot brace yourself, the unreadiness is all. The unreadiness can be all and leave us space to be moved by our experiences, including those in clinics, especially with those you help in clinics and those you work and collaborate with to give legal services, and those who help you. I have never formally practiced law, as many of you will. But I quickly learnt I could chose multiple ways of doing law and frankly sometimes undoing it too. From where I stand as the less typical lawyer but one motivated by a desire to see justice done, to ensure everyone has a good chance at a full life I have four suggestions; First, resisting law bounded-ness. My second: dont overvalue your brightness, put brightness in perspective. My third: resisting righteousness. My fourth: recognising everybody is somebody.

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The clinical programme that you have now embarked on and formalise by taking an oath today reflects the faith many of us have that the practice of lawboth in its ordinary dimensions and extraordinary ones. Still my first suggestion is not to become law-bound, even as you plan lives as lawyers. We still need an open mind. Law matters as I have said to justice, to securing human flourishing for all. But it isnt everything we need to be valuable citizens. It never can fully apprehend us as human beings. A lot that matters to life falls outside laws control. We might not see that because it is so such an authoritative discourse and influential door opener for us and a source of privilege for us. Sometimes we simply rest in laws power and celebrate it. Your clinical work at the law school, which is about the application of law, will give you a unique opportunity to see what law can do and what it cannot as wellto resist law- bounded-ness. Your clients will tell you stories and problems that fall both inside and outside the formulas you have learnt for identifying legal issues and figuring out where to find the answers. When the law is put in context, as it will in clinics, we must learn how to work and see the value of work inside and outside the boundaries of law.

My second suggestion is about brightness. And not overvaluing it. Our educational system highly values something called brightness. It is not uncommon in my part of the world to hear the first and only descriptor of someone well thought of is that they are so bright. For you, that brightness is reflected in your grades and the scholarships you get. It is not uncommon these days for my students to demand, before they have done any work, early in the semester, an A+ because they are historically and eternally bright. I accept that something called brightness is a corner piece of our educational system. But it means far less than we assume. Brightness, so heralded, is a condition not a contribution. In the end, it is not that intellect per se that will be valued by others, but your character, commitment, labour and humanity. 5 | P a g e

And as for the enduring nature of brightness. I dont buy it. The brain is more like a muscle and if you dont use if, you lose it. It is cultivated by thoughtfulness in the midst and with others, openness, a good ear and not just a fine voice. As Jennifer Nedelsky says, it is human relationships that foster our autonomy, and make us who we are.4 In the end, there are very few places in the world were as a grown person you get to be just bright and valued. Folks will soon ask about who you are and what you have done with your lives as lawyers. So I encourage you to put your cleverness in perspective.

My third humble suggestion is about resisting righteousness. Lawyering invites strong judgments of right and wrong. And with it there is a temptation to clothe ourselves with righteousness. Fighting against injustice can be an occupation, but never a form of nobility. One of my intellectual mentors is a Trinidadian black lesbian feminist now at University of Toronto, Jacqui Alexander. I was stunned when I read her book which came out in 2005 called Pedagogies of Crossing at how unsettled many parts of it made me, even though we had been friends for many years and spoken about it often. In the book she says, one of the effects of constructing life based principally in opposition is that the ego learns to become righteous in its hatred of injustice. In that very process it learns simultaneously how to hate since it is incapable of distinguishing between good hate and bad hate, between righteous hate and irrational hate.5 She made it clear that she was not rejecting radical politics but noticed psychic residuals that travel sometimes silently, sometimes vociferously, into social movements that run aground on the invisible premises of scarcityalterity driven by separation, empowerment driven by external lossand of having to prove perpetual injury as the quid pro quo to secure ephemeral rights.6 I find Jacquis description of this very stark, and there are cases where its caution may not be needed. Still, many of us have seen in those whose oppositional work we admire and in
4 Jennifer Nedelsky, Law, Boundaries and the Bounded Self (1990) 30 Representations 162. 5 M Jacqui Alexander, Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory and the Sacred

(Duke University Press 2005) 325-326. 6 Ibid.

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organisations forged from that work a derailment of self, from that psychic residue which she describes. It is hard to build a politics of freedom which is entirely generated out of our pain and wounded-ness. I thought about this this afternoon as my students this afternoon, in a frank discussion about social justice said to me baldly, Everything in Puerto Rico is secondary to the political status question. It is a block to ALL Progress. I value Alexanders claim that we need an affirmative vision for our society and lives, built around our connection to each otherin spite of and because of the separations of centuries: a struggle for a loving freedom.7 We have to ask what that other sort of struggle could look like in Puerto Rico and elsewhere, in which we vigorously search out spaces to imaginatively consider our choices to achieve a loving freedom.

Everybody is Somebody
And finally and relatedly, we must never undervalue the dignity of every single person. In the English speaking Caribbean, some writers like the late Professor Rex Nettleford, have talked about the process of smaddification, as a process of decolonisation.8 What he meant was that as part of the creation of nations was a recovery of self, with the starting premise that Everybody is somebody; in Jamaican: Everybody a smaddy. Nettleford describes this as the phenomenon of growth of personal awareness and self-confidence amongst the vast majority of Jamaicans and the sense of place and purpose engendered by the social legislation programmes of the seventies.9 He added, Everybody (particularly the deprived masses) began to feel he was somebody (smaddy).10 The idea of being somebody has deep historical salience to us in the Caribbean, hard fought for meaning: control of our bodies, our right to decide our plan for our life and our right to control our labour. We must each be able to decide for ourselves what we consider a Ibid 88. See T Robinson, A loving freedom (2007) 24 Small Axe 118; T Robinson, Our Imagined Lives in Faith Smith (ed), Sex and the Citizen: Interrogating the Caribbean (2011 University Press of Virginia) 201. 8 Rex Nettleford, Preface: Michael Manley and Caribbean Development: The Culture of Resistance (2002) 48 Caribbean Quarterly 1, 1. 9 Rex Nettleford, Review Article on Michael Manley, Jamaica: Struggle in the Periphery Third World Media Limited London 1982) (1982) 28(3) Caribbean Quarterly 47-53, 51. Nettleford attributed the phrase to Anthony Laing who worked with the Popular Music Development Programme of the Jamaica Cultural Development Corporation (ibid 53 n 15) 10 Ibid. 53 n 15.

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worthwhile life. You would be surprised how many times as human beings and lawyers we are called upon to recognising this and affirm this for others and sometimes ourselves.

To be moved
So I end by saying this is a clinical programme, in the sense of learning through direct observation, but it need not be clinical in the other sense, of emotionless or detached. A good lifes work in law is one in which you are moved in some way. Moved to see yourself and law in new ways. For many of you, your induction here will be the beginning of that journey. Congratulations and I wish you all every success.

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