I am very excited to report that Juliet Brodie, Clare Pastore, Ezra Rosser & Jeffrey Selbin, Poverty Law: Policy and Practice (2014) has been published by Aspen / Wolters Kluwer [The Amazon link is here]. The textbook is the first poverty law textbook to be published in more than a decade, the last book was the Nice/Trubek Poverty Law textbook (1997 with a 1999 supplement), and though there were a number of poverty law books in the 1970s, this has not been a crowded field. We hope that many of you find the book a great resource and that the existence of such a book leads to more poverty law classes being offered.
I am going to not speak anymore on behalf of my co-authors (here is an interview Jeff did about the book), but I do want to say a bit more about both the book and about working on such a book. First, let me say that putting together such a book is an eye-opening experience. It requires reading a great number of articles, cases, and reports, looking for good items for including in the book as well as trying to make sure that things or areas were not overlooked, even though it is impossible in such an activity not to overlook things or to gloss over things that could have used more space. So it has been a humbling and great learning experience. It also involves tough choices as to coverage, organization, and depth. It also can seem like it never ends—right now as I write this, I am doing so at some risk that I will not complete all that I want to complete in the chapter of the teacher’s manual (which we hope to finish at the end of this month) that I am working on now—which is why it was so thrilling to get my copy of the book in the mail this week.
When I was contemplating whether to work on a poverty law textbook, a colleague of mine told me that the most important consideration was whether I was going to get along with my co-authors. And looking back, working together with Juliet, Clare, and Jeff has been by far the most valuable and enjoyable part of working on the book. As the most junior person and only non-clinician on the book, it was a great to be able to learn from people who have much more experience and are committed social activists. Though we worked on the book entirely through email, dropbox, and conference calls, doing the book allowed me to hear what they thought were the most important things about poverty and about particular programs. And we talked a lot. In my frequent desperate searches for a way to get a strong enough internet signal to call in to our call, I called in from a Pizza Hut in San Salvador, El Salvador, a Starbucks in Kyoto, Japan, another Starbucks in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as a failed effort to call from a desert shop in Antigua, Guatemala. And Juliet, Clare, and Jeff forgave me, I think, for the times when the connection was poor or my toddler was talking in the background. But there is no question that the highlight of the book was working with them and even if no one adopts it, it was still worthwhile for me because of that.
Poverty law can be a depressing class or topic. Big wins are rare before the Supreme Court and the politics of blaming the poor continues to be quite prevalent (though the rising awareness of inequality offers some hope that the politics may change). We tried to deal with the depressing nature of the class in part by ending the book with two chapters, one on economic approaches and another on human rights, which are a bit different from the standard narrative of a New Deal or Great Society program under threat. But overall, I do not believe the book is depressing. If anything, getting students to study this material, to take it seriously—despite Scalia’s views on the class—can be uplifting and rewarding. There is a depressing part of the book for me, and it comes early on. My portion of the dedication page is a dedication to Mario Castro Tablas, my father-in-law, who died at the end of last year as we finished up the last parts of the book. My wife’s loss is tremendous and mine is only a fraction of that. But while it may seem a bit pathetic to say this, after all who doesn’t have closer friends one’s own age, in many ways Mario was the best friend that I have had since law school. My wife is from El Salvador and we try our best to live there most summers, the December holiday, and during any research leaves that I have. We now have a house there, built by Mario in the year before his death, but for most of our visits before then, we lived with my in-laws. And as anyone who has lived with their in-laws knows, that can be frustrating, but in my case the good dramatically outweighed any awkward moments (like running into the yard in boxers after a minor Earthquake as my soon to be in-laws ate breakfast). So I am going to end this with a brief note I wrote after Mario died:
All my life, my grandfather has been my example of the type of husband I want to be, but in many ways Mario is my example of the type of father and man I want to be. I am arrogant enough to say that he and I have many traits in common, some good and some bad. We are, or were, both self-confident (to put it nicely), smart, stubborn, intellectually curious, and a bit machito. But Mario was also more free with his emotions, more free to enjoy life (and to enjoy parties), and more able, even in rough circumstances, to embrace the beauty of the here-and-now. He easily could relate to people on their level and, at the same time, he could be very deliberate in what he said when he wanted to make an important point, taking what could seem a painfully long time to make a point but doing so in a way that also showed respect for importance of thinking before speaking. In short, he was and will always be somebody I deeply admire and, more importantly, someone I love immensely. But though the feelings are still too raw for this to be true and my heart too weak, I hope to take comfort and joy in the fact that he is also still around me, for I can see him in Elvia [my wife], Mateo [my son], . . . and even in myself.
My part of this book is dedicated with love to Mario.