Professor Ascanio Piomelli serves as Associate Dean for Experiential Learning, directs the Community Group Advocacy & Social Change Lawyering Clinic, teaches the Individual Representation and the Community Economic Development Clinic, and is the faculty advisor of the Social Justice Lawyering Concentration. His scholarship centers on efforts by attorneys and other activists to foster progressive social change. He explores the models of lawyering and social change informing such work, the relationships between lawyers, clients, and communities, and the impact of race, class, and gender on those efforts. He is a leading exponent and analyst of a “collaborative,” “rebellious,” or what he and others label a "democratic" approach to social-change lawyering—in which lawyers work with, rather than on behalf of, clients and communities to collectively press for social change. His work has explored the participatory democratic vision, values, and practices that underlie such efforts.
He attended Stanford University, A.B. History (1982), and Stanford Law School, J.D. (1985). Before joining UC Hastings in 1992 to help launch the Civil Justice Clinic (now the Community Justice Clinics), he worked as a legal services attorney in Fresno, California, where he litigated on behalf of low-income workers and tenants. He also served as an attorney and later executive director of the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, then Stanford Law School’s primary clinical outplacement. There he worked to enforce the city’s rent stabilization law, improve housing conditions, and facilitate citizen participation in local land-use decisions—as part of community efforts to resist gentrification and residential displacement.
Professor Piomelli lives in San Francisco with his spouse, Joanne Lee, and their daughters. His passions include food, baseball, and jazz.
Areas of Expertise (11)
UC Hastings 1066 Foundation Faculty Award (professional)
for scholarly excellence
Stanford Law School: J.D., Law 1985
Stanford University: A.B., History 1982
Graduation with Distinction and Departmental Honors.
- The Clinical Law Review : Board of Editors
- Supreme Court of California : Bar Admission
Media Appearances (1)
S.F. landlords offer tenants tempting offers to move out
However, a landlord would be crossing the line if he were to say, " 'Fat chance if I maintain the building anymore if you don't accept it,' " said Ascanio Piomelli, a professor of law at UC Hastings Law School. Landlords are also barred from making threats verbally or through actions, such as not fixing a door that needs repair, said Piomelli...
Event Appearances (10)
Lawyering Toward Our Ideals
IU Access to Justice Speaker Series Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Opening Address, What's the G? Gentrification and the Myth of Fair Housing
UC Hastings Race & Poverty Law Journal Symposium UC Hastings College of the Law
Community Engagement: Rewards and Challenges for Us as Lawyers, Teachers, Scholars, and Citizens
AALS Clinical Conference Chicago, IL
Sensibilities for Social Justice Lawyers
Panel on Teaching and Practicing 21st Century Social Justice Lawyering. Conference on Representing the Vulnerable and Remembering Ralph Abacal: Lessons from the 1970s UC Hastings College of the Law
Pointers and Perspectives on Scholarly Productivity (with Prof. Mae Quinn)
Clinical Law Review Writers Workshop NYU Law School
Strategies for Effectively Integrating Scholarship into Clinicians' Professional Lives (with Prof. Kate Kruse)
AALS Workshop for New Clinical Teachers Washington DC
The Challenge of Democratic Laweyring
Symposium: The Lawyer’s Role in a Contemporary Democracy, Louise Stein Center for Law & Ethics Fordham Law School
Panel Presentation, Rebellious Lawyering Conference Taos, New Mexico
Developing Clinical Scholarship
Indian Law Clinical Symposium Albuquerque, NM.
Essential Topics in Teaching Interviewing and Counseling: Criteria for Selecting Topics and Methods
Opening Plenary Panel Presentation, UCLA/BYU Conference on the Pedagogy of Interviewing and Counseling UCLA Law School
Selected Articles (7)
This article invites readers to consider the role our childhood heroes and ideas of heroism play in shaping the lawyers we become. It interprets Gerald Lopez’s Rebellious Lawyering as a rejection of reigning views of heroism that society inculcates and law school reinforces. The article differentiates Lopez’s vision of lawyering from the client-centered approach, clarifying how lawyering can be client-centered, but not rebellious. The article responds to three main criticisms of the book—that it too harshly judges “regnant” lawyers, sets too high a standard for rebellious lawyers, and paints too rosy a picture of clients and communities. These critiques, the article argues, fail to appreciate that Lopez aims to depict a model of practice toward which to aspire, one he recognizes none of us will consistently reach, but nonetheless hopes to entice some of us to pursue, as we work to remake our world.
This essay suggests six mindsets or sensibilities that I consider crucial for 21st Century social justice lawyers of all ages: (1) We are not starting from scratch; we are building on the ideas and efforts of our predecessors and contemporaries. (2) It helps to be clear about our fundamental aims: what we mean by and count as social justice and social change. (3) We are at our best when we connect our efforts with others. (4) It is vital to cultivate our ability to see from multiple perspectives. (5) We are wise to pay close attention to class, race, and gender and to consciously combat all aspects of our cultural encapsulation. (6) Fostering social change is hard, fulfilling work.
This essay, written for the Fordham Law Review's symposium on The Lawyer's Role in a Contemporary Democracy, argues that a diverse movement of social-change lawyering that has emerged over the past two decades is united by a commitment to fostering robust democratic participation in collective action by low-income and working-class people and people of color. The essay describes the democratic vision that unites these lawyers, with its focus on enhancing ordinary citizens' abilities to act in concert with others in self-government broadly construed. This vision challenges the long-prevailing, thinner conception, which limits democracy to a political process that provides a say in selecting one's representatives and an incentive structure to encourage representatives to act wisely. This essay argues that these democratic lawyers and their partners challenge deep-seated individualistic, aristocratic, and formalistic cultural predispositions in the United States and its legal profession. These prevailing - but contested - predispositions relate to: what democracy means and how we practice it; how we understand individuals and groups, intelligence and expertise; and the relative importance we place on formal rights or on the power of people and groups to change their living conditions.
Over the past decade, the literature on lawyering has paid increased attention to the impact of cultural differences on interactions between attorneys and clients. This Essay assesses the latest generation of clinical textbooks on interviewing and counseling and how they seek to prepare student-lawyers for cross-cultural work. It highlights differences in these textbooks' definitions of culture, measures of cross-cultural success, descriptions of the dimensions along which cultures differ, the side(s) of the lawyer-client relationship on which they focus on, and the behaviors they suggest. The Essay argues these texts are at their best when they define culture both broadly and fluidly, when they encourage a generous curiosity about both clients' and lawyers' cultures, and when they effectively push lawyers to focus on their reactions to, and interactions with, others. The Essay also urges the field to focus more specific attention on socioeconomic class and its cultural manifestations, on social cognition and sub-conscious social attitudes, and on the potentially destructive interplay of lawyers' professional socialization with prevailing stereotypes of low-income and working class people.
This Article reinterprets collaborative lawyering - and its call for progressive lawyers to collaborate with clients and communities to jointly pursue social change - as part of a participatory democratic tradition of active self-government by engaged citizens. Rejecting conventional views that collaborative lawyering primarily grows out of postmodernist social theory, the Article details this lawyering approach's deep affinity with John Dewey's modern recasting of Athenian and Jeffersonian ideas and with the early 1960s' practice of Ella Baker, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and New Left activists. It argues that a democratic lens reveals the distinctive values underlying collaborative lawyers' commitment to ordinary citizens' robust participation in collective efforts to reshape society - values that are at odds with competing visions of democracy and lawyering that place expert professionals at the center of such efforts.
This Article examines the considerable influence that French philosopher Michel Foucault's conceptualization of power has had on U.S. theorists of lawyering for social change. Led by Professors Gerald López and Lucie White, a substantial literature has emerged in the past two decades urging progressive lawyers to reshape their lawyering practices to collaborate more closely with clients and community groups. Proponents of this model of activist law practice have often invoked Foucault and acknowledged that his ideas about power underlie and inform their visions of lawyering. This Article provides an accessible exposition of Foucault's complicated ideas about power, set in the larger context of his work, and a balanced assessment of their utility and limitations for social change lawyering. It uses an environmental justice scenario to help convey the collaborative approach to lawyering and the role that visions of power play in daily lawyering practice. It details the many ways in which Foucault's view of power fits neatly with the projects of this model of collaborative lawyering and also reveals a number of areas in which his approach is unhelpful, areas in which these lawyers must part company with him and draw instead from other models of power and social change.
Collaborative lawyering (also known as "rebellious" or "community" lawyering) is an approach to social-change lawyering that emerged in the late 1980's and 1990's to urge lawyers representing lower-income clients and communities to more actively work with, rather than just for, their clients (and other non-lawyer allies) in joint efforts to make social change. Several critics have chided this approach for what they characterize as its postmodernist-inspired excessive focus on the micro-dynamics of the attorney-client relationship, which they argue makes collaborative lawyers inattentive to and ill-equipped to challenge the institutional and structural conditions in which their clients live. This article aims to show that the critics fail to read the extensive literature carefully and thus lump together independent and sometimes disparate thinkers. The critics, it argues, fail to appreciate and thus dismiss prematurely the extensive attention that collaborative lawyers direct outside the attorney-client relationship, as well as the activist democratic vision of social change that underlies the approach. The article carefully considers each of the critics and assesses the applicability of their criticisms to each of the main exponents of collaborative lawyering. It synthesizes, critiques, and identifies previously ignored differences between these works. The article grounds its analysis in an exploration of a struggle over the packing of the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Board. In so doing, it elaborates two elements of collaborative lawyering that neither the critics nor proponents have fully explored: the meaning of contextualized problem-solving and the importance of monitoring the ways that law and lawyers often transform disputes. It thereby illustrates how collaboration with clients does attend to and can alter institutional and structural power.
Community Group Advocacy and Social Change Lawyering Clinic
The Community Group Advocacy and Social Change Lawyering Clinic is designed for students considering a career in social change lawyering and interested in learning how to work as effective partners with activist community groups pushing for social change. The Clinic, which is only offered in Spring semester, focuses on the range of skills and persuasive strategies that social change lawyers utilize, including grassroots lobbying, legislative drafting, community organizing/mobilizing, community legal education, media campaigns, and/or organizing public hearings. Students work in two- or three-person teams and are placed with Bay Area social justice lawyers or community groups to work 16-20 hours per week on a defined project affecting lower-income, working-class, of-color, and other marginalized communities. Collectively, the projects introduce students to the broad range of approaches to making social change and to working as partners with community activists and groups, rather than simply navigating the legal system on their behalf.
Community Economic Development Clinic
In the CED Clinic, students provide legal counsel to neighborhood-based groups, citywide advocacy organizations, and local political officials on a broad range of community development, land use, and policy issues impacting the Tenderloin, Mid-Market and other low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in San Francisco. Projects vary, but typically involve advocacy, counsel, and factual development related to proposed land use developments, to ensuring that Tenderloin and Mid-Market residents benefit from new economic initiatives, and to participating in City and State policy-making around development issues. The Clinic focuses on the intersection of law, policy, and politics and reveals the full complexity and institutional infrastructure of the Tenderloin and Mid-Market community