Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type


Publication Date





Boston University School of Law




Critical scholars and public defenders alike have grappled with the contradictions at the heart of counseling clients in a carceral system. Systems of oppression operate within the public defender - client relationship because the defender’s role in translating the law also enforces its inequities. Counseling can obscure the workings of the system, providing an illusion of choice despite privileging certain forms of knowledge and tactics.

But the counseling site is also where defenders become exposed to client’s lived experiences, encounter collectivist tactics, and critically examine the tension of their role in the system. Likewise, through counseling defenders can pull back the veil of the legal system and demystify it to allow clients and movements to address the system’s inner workings.

This paper focuses on how counseling reinforces oppression, but also on what can happen when defenders and clients hold out this tension, examine it, and bring it into the counseling relationship. This more robust counseling already naturally occurs, and should be expanded in a principled and intentional manner. When defenders and clients embrace the contradictions at the heart of counsel and lay it bare, they can help transform the counseling site into a location where epistemes interact. Defenders and clients can collaborate, pool their knowledge, and trace back their constraints to the mechanisms that replicate systems of oppression. They can then go forth from the counseling site together, or separately, or with other partners entirely to forums where varied tactics can disrupt those underlying mechanisms.


forthcoming BULR 2024

Find on SSRN



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.