Want to Humanize your Clients? Try ‘Rebellious Lawyering’

15 February, 2018

Katie Wolf

Katie Wolf


As I write, the news warns of another looming government shutdown. One key conundrum: how this country will treat its “Dreamers” — undocumented people who were brought to the United States as kids.


The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed nearly 700,000 people to attend college and begin careers, is soon ending, leaving many with no pathway to citizenship.

Hearing this news, I remembered my conversation with Andrew Free, a brave and creative lawyer based in Nashville, TN. Andrew represents clients affected by immigration laws and civil rights abuses, and came onto the national stage through his bold ideas for protecting those held in for-profit immigrant detention centers.

His strategies may be unusual (not many attorneys can claim they’ve been banned from a detention center), but his philosophy on client-care is one that is relevant to any attorney: tell a compelling story, and never lose the big picture.

This is where the DACA fight enters. Some politicians assert that any gains made by Dreamers must be a trade-in for a greater crack-down on other immigrants. But as Andrew explained: the Dreamers’ greatest power comes from their refusal to benefit at the expense of criminalizing others. They have “intentionally rejected requests to sacrifice their parents in order for them to have some sort of status,” he explains.

Some attorneys will try to advocate for their client by claiming they are an exception to the stereotypes that adhere to their group — protecting one person while further entrenching societal prejudice. But Andrew’s work offers up a different philosophy — one where no one is thrown under the bus.

For Andrew, each case is an opportunity to educate judges, juries, and policymakers about the humanity not only of his client, but of the wider class of people they are a part of. He says the work comes down to emphasizing connections:

“The fact that a child does not want to have to choose between losing her mother and being able to go to college — that is something that is relatable.

“The pain of mothers who have to choose between maybe seeing their children raped or recruited into a gang in El Salvador or Honduras or Guatemala, or risking death or kidnapping on the way to the United states in order to seek refuge — only to be put into a detention center and abused — that pain is something that any parent, any person should be able to relate to, if it’s presented in that way.”

Andrew’s clients are mostly people of color who speak languages other than English. But he has found real success through his expansive view of the work it takes to tell the full story of the people you represent.

For more information on Andrew’s work, and his bold tactics of “rebellious lawyering,” listen to the full podcast here