In times of social upheaval, lawyers can mark the way toward social change. In particular, when lawyers become more aggressive than traditional lawyers in the cause of fighting injustice, they face backlash from multiple sources, including government and their own profession. Such was the case during the U.S. civil rights movement. Unusually aggressive behavior by cause lawyers was met with hostility from their own profession and from government action. Those lawyers, while battered at times with physical violence, bar ethics charges, contempt of court, and state hostility, survived and changed social conditions at the same time they altered the culture of their own profession. Some have blamed them for the so-called civility crisis in the legal profession. A phenomenon with some, but not perfect parallels is happening in China. Activist human rights and criminal defense lawyers have undertaken tactics that are dramatically outside norms of behavior for Chinese lawyers and arguably in violation of law. In general, they face even harsher retribution than American civil rights lawyers did, although the small number of American lawyers who faced violence and near-death in racially-motivated violence could have faced no harsher retaliation. The parallels, while far from completely matching the two circumstances, are worth exploring and considering as the world watches developments in the Chinese justice system.



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