a14 – Book Review: The book on not getting booked

Book Review: Representing Radicals: A Guide for Lawyers and Movements, By Tilted Scales Collective (AK Press, 2021)

by Paul Hartman

The last time I was summoned to court seems like a lifetime ago. I had been arrested in connection with a protest, spent a few nights in jail, and thought I was off the hook when they let me out without charges. But then, shortly after, new charges showed up in my mailbox. And thus began a nearly year-long ordeal that I ended by pleading out before trial.

At the time, I was incredibly lucky to have access to a team of local National Lawyers Guild (NLG) lawyers who assisted in my case. This was a time when you could count the number of “political cases” in the city on your hands, whereas in today’s political landscape—the escalating protests since Trump’s election, then the George Floyd rebellion—these numbers have skyrocketed. These days, more and more people are finding themselves caught up in the legal system with charges stemming from activism and political action. And with these numbers on the rise, it becomes more and more crucial to find lawyers who can work with the people who often bring an entirely new perspective to the case.

This is where the Tilted Scales Collective’s Representing Radicals comes in, a new and incredibly thorough guide for assisting lawyers working with clients from radical political backgrounds. In tandem with the collective’s 2017 A Tilted Guide To Being A Defendant, these books are invaluable resources for attorneys and defendants—or potential defendants—alike. While primarily intended for those doing the representing, Representing Radicals can offer numerous insights into the dynamics of facing the legal system for the defendants as well. While working with the NLG was often much smoother than it would be with a public defender or private attorney, this book would still have significantly improved our ability to think and strategize about our cases.

The book begins by laying out why the attorney-defendant dynamic will likely differ significantly when involving those with radical politics or political charges. To demonstrate this, the authors elucidate their framework for three areas in thinking about success dealing with charges. These three areas are legal, personal, and political. While lawyers are of course well-versed in the former, bringing the latter categories into the discussion allows for a more balanced vision of success to emerge between the defendant and their attorney. These three areas certainly overlap, as the authors note, but can be summarized as follows: legal goals refer to goals in the courtroom, personal goals address the needs of the charged individual, and political goals analyze how the case affects the movements that the defendants participate in.

The book then moves to address numerous scenarios that radical defendants often face. These situations—like the use of infiltrators or grand juries—can be unfamiliar to both attorneys and those subjected to them. The Tilted Scales Collective draws on decades of experiences to cover quite a bit of ground on the kinds of scenarios that radicals could potentially find themselves in. 

Next, the authors address the specific dynamics of attorney-defendant relationships and interactions. As noted in the book, it can be immensely supportive for first-time defendants to even have the legal process explained to them. This section not only assists lawyers in understanding their relation with clients who might have different perspectives than they are used to, but can also be helpful in preparing defendants or future defendants in what to expect as their case proceeds.

After discussing the relationship between the attorney and the defendant, Representing Radicals offers some perspectives on the relationship between the lawyer and people supporting the defendant. Again drawing on a wealth of experiences, the authors examine many different ways this support could and has looked like in the past, and how to facilitate the best possible relationship between this organizing and the legal team. Additionally, those facing charges can easily draw on these examples to help shape the support they would like to see during their case.

The final chapter is dedicated primarily to discussing how defendants, their attorneys, and their supporters could interact and engage with the media. Rather than simply embracing a complete rejection of media engagement, they break it down in helpful ways that allow everyone involved to weigh the potential gains and drawbacks of different forms of engagement, or lack thereof. This balanced overview is useful for facilitating clear discussions on possible engagement between those in different roles. In a way, this could summarize the approach of the entire book: offering a variety of experiences and perspectives on the many different goals and strategies that radicals may choose to pursue, allowing for the most straightforward communication between attorney and defendant as possible.

Representing Radicals arrives as a crucial resource in a time marked by increasing political conflict and repression. With an introduction from Lauren Regan, a helpful glossary, and a substantial number of short contributions throughout the book from various attorneys sharing their experiences, the book is a must-read for anyone currently involved in legal organizing, as well as anyone who anticipates ending up on the wrong side of the law—which, in 2022, could easily be any one of us.