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California Law Review



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Community organization, integrative lawyering, West Harlem Environmental Action, New York City, Columbia University, organizational integration


This shift from defending and reacting to creating and envisioning requires a more engaged organizational role for the lawyer. The lawyer is now expected to do more than translate the organization/community's grievance into discreet legal frameworks and discourse---e.g., a civil rights violation, a nuisance, participatory right, etc. The lawyer now intervenes in negotiations from which the organization or community has been excluded. This new role requires a shifting, flexible mix of skills and a more dynamic interaction with the organization and its varied functions-policy, community education, lobbying, and organizing. This new role is what we call "integrative lawyering," an emergent model of community lawyering that we identify and explore in the context of our experience working for and with an environmental justice organization, West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) in New York City. WE ACT has changed over time from ad hoc, pro bono legal representation to an ongoing multi-faceted collaboration with Fordham Law School faculty and students to now also employing an in-house attorney. We argue that "integrative lawyering" has emerged at WE ACT, and at similar organizations working at the intersection of environmental justice and sustainable development, partly through the efforts of lawyers and community based organizations to intervene in, and respond to, the political and economic dynamics of contemporary urban development. In Part II we sketch Columbia University's proposed expansion in West Harlem, the contested issues surrounding the proposal, and WE ACT's role as an emerging force in Harlem's redevelopment and revitalization. In Part III, we articulate a framework for understanding the political economy of urban development that WE ACT must navigate in organizing a community response to Columbia's expansion plan. In Part IV, we delve more deeply into the political, economic, and legal dynamics surrounding Columbia's expansion by identifying the various stakeholders, their interests, and the various points of convergence and divergence among them. In Part V, we argue that to be effective in navigating the political and economic forces illustrated in the WE ACT case study, community lawyers need to work "integratively" in two interconnected ways: "role integration" and "organizational integration."