So I spent the weekend (among other pursuits) reading David Kairys' memoir, "Philadelphia Freedom." Full disclosure: David's a good friend and colleague at Temple Law School (which means that if I thought the book sucked, I would just shut up about it, not wanting to offend a friend). Turns out it's a very good read. Now, David's about as far away, politically speaking, from most of the folks who frequent the VC as just about anybody in legal academia can be - a thoroughly unrepentant, unconverted, and unapologetic Lefty of the Old School, and the book wears its politics quite brazenly and openly on its sleeve. I mean that, let it be said, as a compliment; the whole point of the book (subtitled "Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer"), and one that I think it achieves, is to capture a particular moment in time (late '60s - early 70s), and a particular kind of lawyering -- politically aware and "activist" -- that was in many ways emblematic of the time. Some of you, I suspect, are rendered apoplectic when reading that sort of thing, and if so, you probably want to steer clear; but David worked on some pretty interesting and important cases -- the Camden 28 anti-war case(s), Benjamin Spock's appeal to the Supreme Court, a bunch of lawsuits against Frank Rizzo's Philly cops, among many others -- and if you want to see what they looked like from the "other side," this is a fine place to start.
It's particularly interesting, I think, for those of you who are just starting out on careers in the law. There is something compelling about the "lawyer-as-activist" model that David embodied (indeed, that he helped to invent), lawyers who devote themselves to giving a damn and to using the law to right wrong. It's not (and should not be) the prerogative of the political Left - as everyone knows, places like the Institute for Justice and the Center for Individual Rights operate on very much the same model, and have been successful at righting a differently-perceived set of wrongs. The book can be read as a kind of training manual for the activist-lawyer; some of the best parts of the book, I thought, were the descriptions of the actual lawyering that needs to get done in even these very "political" cases. David's a damned good litigator, and as a damned good litigator he understood that you can make noise about the politics of a case all you want, but ultimately there's a whole lot of good ol' lawyering that needs to get done -- finding cases, reading statutes, crafting arguments -- if you want to advance your client's interest. It's a good lesson in lawyering, I think, for lawyers on any side of a case.