Community Engagement Helps Us Be Champions for Our Legal Community

Like for many of you, a summer highlight for me was watching the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. I was amazed at the journeys that every athlete endured to first prepare for the 2020 Olympic Games, then learn they were postponed, then have the strength and dedication to continue to train another year during a pandemic. I was particularly impressed with our hometown Olympic Champion, gymnast Sunisa Lee. The sacrifices that she and her whole family made to help her succeed as a gymnast is truly remarkable! On August 8th, I joined thousands of other “Team Sunisa” fans, lined up on the streets on the East Side of St. Paul to celebrate the first Hmong-American to not only represent Team USA, but also the first Asian American Olympic Gymnast to win the All-Around Women’s Gymnastic title. This celebration was truly one comprised of deep cultural traditions, where all aspects of Sunisa’s life came together to honor her. It was one of the rare occasions where I witnessed two worlds coming together—Sunisa’s strong, vibrant Hmong culture blended with her American culture. It was a celebration of culture, traditions, gymnastics and how investing in our youth can lead to awesome accomplishments. It quickly reminded me of how our “culture” affects our paths in life and our success.

Sunisa’s family saw her love and unique talent in gymnastics—which was evident at a very young age. They looked beyond how Hmong girls are traditionally raised and broadened their universe beyond what was familiar to them to give their daughter opportunities. The Hmong community also played a significant role in supporting her, emotionally and financially—a testament to the power of community.

Like Sunisa’s family and community have proven to be her champions, we too, can be champions for our clients by engaging in their communities. One way of accomplishing this is through approaching our role as lawyers through cultural and community building lenses. With the demands of meeting deadlines, applying the law to the facts of our client’s case, hearing preparation and advising clients, it is easy to overlook the importance of considering the cultural aspects of a client’s situation, and how our approach to advocacy can affect a client’s community. We are often reminded as legal professionals of the importance of active community engagement, however, we often engage in the communities that are most familiar to us, that serve our interests and passions. By stepping outside of the box and engaging in the communities of the clients we serve, often a community and culture different from our own, we are not only advocating for our clients, but also their community.

In the legal services world, this is often referred to as “community lawyering”.

What is Community Lawyering?

Harvard Law School defines Community Lawyering as “… an umbrella term for collaborative, community-based approaches to legal services”. Central elements include “the integration of the lawyer into the community the lawyer serves, the use of multifaceted approaches to problem solving, and the investment and empowerment of community members in the lawyering process”.1

When legal professionals take a community lawyering approach to advocacy, we gain a better understanding of the strengths in our client’s community. We are less likely to fall into implicit bias or have negative biases that can greatly hinder our level of advocacy.

How can we serve our client communities?

No matter what role we play in the legal community, we have a unique opportunity to apply our education, knowledge and experience to strengthen the communities we serve. Whether an attorney in private practice at a large firm, solo practitioner, legal support staff or public interest attorney, here are some ways you can engage in your client community:
  • Seek out professional services in the community of the clients we serve, reflecting their cultural background (i.e. arbitrators, mediators, appraisers, custody evaluators).
  • Meet clients in a confidential environment in their community
  • Use culturally specific language interpreters to communicate, when applicable.
  • Participate in cultural events and financially support causes that directly affect your client community.
  • Partner with legal services providers to present on legal topics that impact your client community.

By serving as legal advocates and analyzing how to best assist our client community through a cultural and community-building lens, we gain a deeper understanding of our client’s legal issue from a broader perspective, that only enhances our ability to assist our clients in reaching their legal outcome goals.

I look forward to serving you as President this year and engaging in our communities together. Thank you for your commitment to the RCBA!


1Harvard Law School Community Lawyering/Grassroots <> (2021).