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Law School As Activist Revenge

We need to go to law school. Seriously. As activists, we are absolutely dependent on an industry of law that we know very little about and have very little influence in. Prison is serious stuff and to have so little available help within our own ranks is not acceptable or safe. Our friends and lovers are shuffled around in a system that leaves them wondering what they were actually charged with and/or convicted of and what exactly the evidence against them was. Our family are left in utter darkness about procedures and are reduced to begging for legal information from attorneys paid $200 an hour. I seriously believe we need more activist attorneys. NOW.
Law School As Activist Revenge
By Kirsten Anderberg (

We need to go to law school. Seriously. As activists, we are absolutely dependent on an industry of law that we know very little about and have very little influence in. Prison is serious stuff and to have so little available help within our own ranks is not acceptable or safe. Our friends and lovers are shuffled around in a system that leaves them wondering what they were actually charged with and/or convicted of and what exactly the evidence against them was. Our family are left in utter darkness about procedures and are reduced to begging for legal information from attorneys paid $200 an hour. I seriously believe we need more activist attorneys. NOW.

I have been an activist my whole life. And this idea of going to law school as revenge on the system, so to speak, for unjustly handling the poor, and the racist incarcerated numbers, has haunted me my whole life. I am mad they just killed Tookie. I am sick of the illegal wiretapping and spying on Americans. I have long watched attorneys access important things normal people can’t. It is an industry. Law is a fraternity. As the Washington BAR states, it is a “privilege? to sit for the Washington State BAR exam, so that you can get licensed to practice law. It is not a “right.?

Like the medical industry, the legal industry is monitored by a national system so that the nation is not saturated with doctors and lawyers, reducing their fee-bearing weight. From what I can tell, the way law schooling works is the accredited law schools are allowed to take in large first year classes at over $20,000 a year in tuition right now (for low end private law schools). So the law schools take in huge first year classes, raking in a lot of money. Then they cut that class in half by the next year. And again, cut the class by a 1/3 for third year students. So by the end, there is a pyramid shape, where the law schools take in a ton of money for a huge first year class yearly, then less money for each succeeding year class. And the reason for this is the BAR will only allow law schools to graduate a certain number a year or else they will lose their accreditation. The BAR controls the flow of attorney numbers into the nation via law school accreditation and needing to pass the BAR exam to practice law legally. I have heard that the American Medical Association works in a similar manner insulating the medical profession.

You need to realize that this forced pyramid shaping means falsified grading systems. If you had a class of brilliant 2nd year students, 1/3 have to fail, even if they were straight A students. I was stunned when “normalized grading? in my law school made my classwork which never fell below 96 in one class into a C for my semester grade. The explanation was there were only something like 5 slots for A’s, and only a small slot for B’s as well, so some of the A’s actually went into the C’s. At a 96 average, I was getting C’s! Talk about competition. Some people who got B’s failed! Even now, after asking over and over, I still do not get the “normalized grading? I was subjected to in law school. I just knew what line I had to keep my grades above to pass and that is where I aimed and landed.

But all hope is not lost. There are alternatives. When I first applied and was accepted to law schools in 1993, I literally was applying as revenge. I was sick and tired of begging for my food stamp benefits after some computer error somewhere and preferred to do things like argue for increased benefits for families through law and the legislature. My individual pleas for justice were getting lost and I wanted to start representing myself if no one else was going to. Yet I was locked out of every place I tried to assert myself and told to get professionals to be my “advocate.? Like many of my poor friends, I was put off by the whole college thing. Hell, I had not even been able to graduate from high school (even though I got good grades, due to an unstable home life) and I took my GED at age 27. But once I started getting into college, I realized the power of being able to “speak the language? in a way to be heard. I began to realize the more I learned, the more coherent my arguments were getting and the better my resources I was citing.

In the beginning, when I began in community college at age 27, I just kept saying something was wrong based on gender and poverty and this whole welfare mother thing and I could not get a grip on it. I started seeing patterns my mom faced, as I faced them again now as the parent not the kid, as a single mom in poverty, and I began to hear things in college like “institutionalized poverty? and “sexism? and realized these things were what I was seeing and experiencing here and I started to notice patterns. And I started to read others’ work that had also come to some of these same conclusions after connecting the dots in their own lives, as I had done in mine. College gave me a language many times. Things I had been grappling with, I was pleased to know had names! Things like “class oppression? and “capitalism? were already identified concepts and I was so thankful to find that out. It simplified things for me greatly to be able to use that kind of codified language to speak about really heavy emotional things I had been ineffectively communicating about up to then.

I would say the issues of feminism, racism and classism are the things that really drove me to college. I needed to know I was not alone in what I was coming to as my conclusions, I needed to find others like me to not give up. In a women’s re-entry program in Santa Cruz, Ca., my life was permanently empowered and radically altered when I found out you could use schooling as a tool of action, rather than experiencing it as an oppressive nightmare, as I had felt about high school. The Women’s Re-entry Program at Cabrillo College really made us search inside. They forced us to dream. And no easy dreams. They made us reach for the hard, distant dreams. It was in that community college program, led by brilliant activist feminists, that I grabbed at the star of being a lawyer. I have relied on lawyers since I was 8 years old in a protective custody institution that had guns and guards and bars on windows and barbed wire fences. I have been dependent on lawyers much of my life, in the scariest of times, and I resent such dependence and want more freedom to know what is going on there in Legal Land…behind what Kafka calls those “big doors marked Law.? Unbelievably, in community college at age 27, in a radical women’s studies class, I vowed to go to law school as my dream. I had no family, was on welfare, had a 3 year old, no high school diploma, no spouse or child support, and owned nothing. I tell you this so that those of you thinking this does not apply to you because you are too disenfranchised, and could never go to law school, will think again. And I clawed my way through a 4 year degree at a university after obstacles galore, and then at age 33 graduated from college and was accepted at three law schools.

So I entered law school originally as a 33 year old single mom of a 9 year old, with no spouse, and no close family with reliable interactions. I did all my own babysitting and we joke my son went to law school at age 9 because he literally went to classes with me all the time. He knows more “legalese? than most kids and adults, as every night it was me and him alone and I had him reading me legal flash cards in the 5th grade nightly! He was such a fixture in my contracts class that my professor began handing my kid copies of the daily quiz, as well, and really treated him with respect. And my son started actually responding in legal terms on the written quizzes he would hand in during class! It was interesting. My son got really into my law classes. He would say things to me like he was “adversely possessing the couch? when he would take up the whole thing when I wanted to sit down! When I told him to fold the laundry and he didn’t do it, he would retort, “yeah, I heard your offer for that, but I did not accept with any consideration.? He definitely was getting these concepts as he lived emersed in that world with me for a few years.

I was so poor and alone, and things were so unbelievably hard the first time I went to law school. Many of my street performer friends said I was selling out. Many of my activist friends wrote me off as joining the system. I was going towards law with a belief in the system, that the system could save the world, in ways, based on the concept that the legal system was fair. I was innocent in ways. I was ignorant for sure. But now I am 45, and I want to go back to law school. Why? Not because I have faith in the system, but because I have no faith in the system. And I am sick of watching people drown and have their lives wasted due to not having active, aggressive legal representation. We need more Johnny Cochran-type attorneys in activism. I am sick of people representing my friends in a half-assed manner when serious activism, and serious state resistance, is involved.

When I first went to law school, I wanted to make sure it was accredited and I needed full financial aid and scholarships for the outrageous $16-20,000 yearly tuition. At this point, I do not give a crap about the accreditation of my law degree. I just need the degree to sit for the BAR exam. Once you pass the BAR in one state, you can go to another state and take a different BAR exam than people taking their first BAR. So, for example, the People’s Law School in Los Angeles ( is not accredited, and it is dirt cheap at $4,000 a year in tuition. If you get a JD from the People’s Law School, you are allowed to sit for the Ca. BAR. If you pass it, you can practice law in Ca. But you can also then go to say Oregon and Washington and then just apply to get additional state BAR licensing, which is different than first time BAR licensing. Some states have easier BAR exams than others. Some slackers go to the weakest BAR exam states to get licensed first, then circulate into other states via this additional licensing thing. The reason this is important is say the Wa. state BAR will not let me sit for the BAR and get licensed with an unaccredited law degree from the People’s Law School in Ca. It doesn’t matter if I instead come back to Wa. state with a license to practice law in Ca. Then I go into a different track. And CAN sit for the Wa state BAR exam based on the other state’s licensing me rather than based on my law degree. At least that is how it has been explained to me.

We have all seen how powerful political commitment can be. The Vietnam War showed us that a military superpower could not take down a people united and determined. The Iraq War is pretty much teaching us the same lesson. I believe if we had a powerful, committed force of attorneys in the activist enclaves, we would be safer. And more influential in ways that can help forge access to more freedoms. I am sick of watching activists stumble around in the dark once trapped within the criminal system. I don’t want to go to law school to become a public defender, paid by the state to work against the classist, racist state prosecutors. I want to go to law school to be a PRIVATE COUNSEL that is available and speaks plain English to her activist clients.

When I was struggling through law school classes that literally hurt my brain, I kept thinking, “Kirsten, Dan Quayle graduated from law school…you can do this.? I had a boyfriend once who would never do my auto mechanics for me and made me learn each thing that needed fixing. At first I resisted, but he kept saying guys who are not that smart were mechanics, why couldn’t I do it? And that really stuck with me to overcome my fear of mechanics. And I feel that way about law too. Sometimes idiots like Dan Quayle are attorneys, it could not be THAT hard. I started thinking, could law school be harder than, oh, raising a kid in the shame of poverty? And I realized there was no way it could be harder. So that is the way I still think about the law industry. Some idiots are in it, it cannot be that hard!

I have decided to apply to the People’s Law School in Los Angeles. I have no idea how I will pay for it. But it is $4,000 a year, that is perhaps doable through scholarships, if I start applying now and voraciously. A law degree is called a JD, or Doctorate of Jurisprudence. It is considered a graduate degree. Most law schools require a four year college degree with a certain GPA to apply to law school. They also require an intense and expensive exam called the Law School Admissions Exam, or LSAT. (By the way, there is an LSAT fee waiver system if you look into it). At the People’s Law School, they are most concerned with your commitment to social justice and your abilities to succeed in their program. They do not require an LSAT score nor do they require anything above two years of prior college. They will require you to take certain college standards tests to prove you are able to handle the school work at the law level. And they will also make you take the Baby BAR after your first year, I believe. I think the Baby BAR is an exam that the unaccredited law school’s first year class has to take to prove they are up to par with other law students.

I have already taken the LSAT and have a 4 year degree from an accredited college with a high GPA, and I have also already taken first and second year law classes, and passed them at an accredited law school. I am talking to the Ca BAR now to find out if any of my previous law school credits can go towards the new program towards my JD, which would make the program less expensive and shorter for me than the usual 4 years required. Strangely, the effect of the Katrina massacre, the spying scandals and the FBI roundup of environmental activists has had on me, has been to make me want to go back to law school to get my damned JD - to sit for the BAR - to get access to the legal system - to help get active representation based on passion and commitment, not money - into the activist community in the proportions needed. My activist comrades, won’t you join me in applying to the People’s Law School? If not you, who? If not now, when? You can go download their application right now at ( We need activist lawyers in the courtrooms to defend activism outside in the streets.

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Re: Law School As Activist Revenge

FYI... The current mayor of LA went to an unaccredited law school in California. There has been some movement in 2005 by the CAL Senate Judiciary committee to revoke the ability of the governing state agency that oversees the process for unaccredited law schools to issue JD degrees in California. It's about elitism within the legal community and not about consumer protections or promoting justice. The BAR exam protects the public from having lawyers who practice without knowing how to work like a lawyer.

Anyhow, FYI. Average US ABA law school will run you, close to $20K in tuition for a year. CA ABA schools are about $8-10K per year. Unaccredited law schools in California run about $4.5k a year. Now there's grumbling that the bar pass rate at the unaccredited law schools is low. True, but the admissions requirements are set by the CA ABA. Sure some students at the unaccredited law schools, don't have the mental capacity to analyze legal problems and thus won't ever pass the bar, however, a society benefits from its citizenry knowing as much as possible about the legal system. Thus, the CA Senate Judiciary would only be further promoting the elitism by trying to close down the unaccredited law schools. And yes, the first year bar exam is a protection mechanism for students who push on through these smaller schools but can't grasp the concepts.

On a further note, those who handle capital criminal cases, are suppose to have a minimum of fifty felony trials under their belts before they can defend on a capital punishment case. In Texas, you only need a GED to defend capital punishment cases.

For those who wish to know about all the law schools in California, follow the link:

Re: Law School As Activist Revenge

Utterly plagiarized from Crimethinc, but it's relevant to this issue.

If you beat them at their own game, you've lost.

So . . .you're a political activist and you think that it's necessary to use the mainstream media (and the courts) to educate people about certain issues. It seems to make sense that you should use these methods to reach people, because otherwise, who will notice you? Yes, you realize that you're making compromises with the very system you're trying to fight, but it'll be worth it in the end... and we all have to make compromises, don't we? It's worth considering whether we really do after all, just as it's worth questioning whether getting ahead in their system of cutthroat competition and mass-marketing can ever really help us change the world. What would happen if we stopped compromising, stopped playing their game altogether and concentrated all our efforts on creating channels of our own for spreading ideas in new ways?

The Revolution Cannot Be Televised.

Of course they want you on their television show, radio program, rock festival, major label. They don't care whether they're selling mouthwash or anarchist revolution as long as they can keep people watching and buying. They know that sooner or later people are bound to get bored and fed up with the mindless, passionless drivel that they normally have to offer, and they count on you to keep new ideas and styles coming for them to exploit; without that, they'd have nothing new to sell people. They know if they can find ways to sell your own expressions of outrage back to you, to cash in on the very frustration that their system creates, they've got you beat. They know that no message you could spread through their channels could be more powerful than the message that your use of their medium itself sends: stay tuned. No awareness you could possibly raise through television or CDs sold in shopping malls is more important than the awareness of the power of individuals to act for themselves. Television watching and supermarket shopping keep people passive, watching things that they can never take part in and people they can never meet, buying what is marketed to them by corporations rather than making their own music, their own ideas, their own lives. To motivate people to act for themselves, you have to contact them more directly.

The Values of Mass Production.

We're taught to think of our success in terms of numbers, aren't we? If touching one person's life is a good thing, then touching one thousand people's lives must be a great thing. It's easy to see where we learned to think this way: our whole society revolves around mass production. The more units we can move, the more customers we can serve, the more votes we can get, the more money and stuff we have, the better, right?

But maybe it's not possible to touch a thousand people as deeply or as powerfully as one person or ten people. And maybe it's not really so revolutionary after all to have one person or group telling everybody else what's right. Wouldn't it be better to try a decentralized approach where everyone works closely with those around them, instead of a few people leading an anonymous mass? Do you, or your band, or your label have to save the world all by yourselves? Why don't you trust anyone else to do it with you? (And have you noticed how much you have to stomp all over everyone else to get that success you plan to use to spread your message?)

One political band playing a show to nine hundred people can recite revolutionary slogans for everyone present to stand and listen to, but they remain out of arm's reach of most of the people there, up on a pedestal as "musicians," "artists," "heroes." On the other hand, one band playing an equally impassioned show to forty people, in a more intimate setting, can interact on a personal level with everyone there, and make it clear that everyone is capable of doing what they do. Thus they have the potential to spark four more bands (or similar revolutionary projects), increasing their impact exponentially. The same goes for record labels, for writers, for speakers and artists, and of course for "leaders" of any kind.

Working Within the System.

Most of us don't get much pleasure out of the things we have to do to work inside the system. We'd rather be reading books on our own than writing assigned papers for school, rather be using our skills, energy, and time to work on projects of our own choice than selling ourselves to employers. But we feel like we have to work for them, whether we like it or not. It never occurs to us how much more fun, and perhaps more effective, it could be to take our labor out of their hands and do something else with it. Sure it would be hard at first, but nothing could be harder than to have to put up with this bullshit for the rest of our lives, right? Better we dedicate ourselves to replacing it than just dealing with it.

But, you protest, you're still going to be fighting the status quo, you're going to change things from the inside, right? That's what they tell you, at least. Of course the system has "appropriate procedures" for people with grievances to go through to try to make things better; that's the safety valve to release pressure when people get too worked up. Do you think the powers that be would really let anyone use their own laws and methods to depose them? If this system provided opportunities for real change, people would have taken advantage of them a long time ago. Countless generations have set out convinced that they would succeed where other had failed—that's where lawyers and reporters come from, you know. They're the cynical corpses of idealistic young men and women who thought the system could be reformed.

Besides, can you trust yourself to work "within the system" for the right reasons? We're all programmed to want "success," to measure ourselves by wealth and social status, whether we like it or not. Could it be that you want to become a journalist or professor of political science or rock star because you can't bring yourself to consider any other options seriously, because you're afraid to try cutting to the safety line that ties you to the security of a mainstream lifestyle? And how can you be sure that it isn't that dark corner of your heart pushing you to seek success, the part that loves the attention and feelings of greatness your popularity and social standing bring? Sure it feels great to be able to tell your parents what your goals are and have them applaud your decisions... but is that any way to decide how to go about changing the world? Let's listen to our hearts, trust our instincts, and refuse to participate in anything that bores or outrages us. We need to nourish our idealism and our willingness to take risks, not work out new ways to integrate our frustration and our desperation for change back into the society that engendered them. Remember, every day we spend "using the system" is another day longer we'll have to wait until new networks and better ways of life replace the old ones.

How do we get out of here?

Yes, it often seems like there's no alternative to working "within the system" if we want to get things done and not keep our ideas quarantined within the narrow confines of the underground. But why keep the underground quarantined to narrow confines? Surely if we put all our energy into expanding the spaces in which we can interact as free, equal human beings, rather than trying to repair the burning machinery of this doomed society, we could make at least as much of an impact. Imagine what we could achieve if we kept all our potential in our own hands, and refused to waste it ever again working for their system for even a minute. There's no excuse to let even a fraction of our lives go by doing things we don't love, or to let any of our talents and efforts serve to prop up a world order we oppose. Instead, let's fight so hard, and live so hard, that others inside the cages of mainstream life can see us and are inspired to join us in our complete rejection of the old world and all its bullshit. And let's make our communities something greater than they are; let's make them more open and more capable of offering life-support, so that others really will be able to join us.

The system we live under offers only losers' games: economic competition instead of cooperation, popularity contests in place of community, the struggle to measure up to social norms instead of the pursuit individual dreams. The reason we're working towards something better in the first place is that everyone loses in these games—so why play them? It's up to us to create new games, more joyful, exciting games to replace the old ones. Let's not try to beat them at their games, but make them join us in ours!


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