Bernstein Institute for Human Right's Annual Conference

The Bernstein Institute for Human Rights Annual Conference convenes an interdisciplinary panel of experts to discuss some of the most pressing human rights issues of our time. Previous topics included legal strategies and tactics to resist the global crackdown on civil society and the human rights implications of predictive analytics.

Annual Conference 2022

Graphic for the Critical Legal Empowerment symposium

Critical Legal Empowerment:

Strategies for Community Built Justice

The Bernstein Institute for Human Rights and the NYU Law Review hosted Critical Legal Empowerment in the United States: Strategies for Community-Built Justice on February 24-25, 2022. The symposium was co-created by an Advisory Committee of legal empowerment practitioners in the US—community organizers, law students, lawyers, scholars—and addresses the power and potential of community-led critical legal empowerment; including the ways that communities can know, use, shape, and ultimately transform the law that too often shuts them out.

A deep change in approach is needed to alter the basic conditions of those who experience persistent injustice. In our current legal ecosystem, lawyers are placed at the center of efforts to resolve justice problems. Legal empowerment—a global movement led by the grassroots, with lawyers and other professionals in supporting, rather than leading roles—is a crucial part of the justice transformation that is needed. When rights-holders are centered and directly engage institutions affecting their lives, they demand that systems become more accessible and responsive to the daily challenges of the people. And when the law and legal systems are actively harming marginalized and oppressed peoples, critical legal empowerment can ensure they are the authors of their own liberation.

Critical legal empowerment rejects technocratic approaches and embraces community-based efforts to redistribute legal power. Inspired by scholars of critical race theory, this quality of critique also requires self-reflection, humility and a commitment to critical praxis—a groundedness in the grassroots.

We  invite you – community members, practitioners, academics, movement leaders, and donors – to join our conversation on critical legal empowerment methods, explore what's needed to deepen and expand the field, and situate the emerging US legal empowerment movement within a global context. The symposium will be a chance to practice critical legal empowerment and an opportunity to imagine a new American legal ecosystem that is truly collaborative and just. 

Learn more on our conference website, including recordings of the conference sessions.