This paper focuses on the immigration, refugee and human rights lawyers in Russia and positions them analytically within the broader socio-legal debates on cause-lawyering in the United States, Western Europe, Israel–Palestine and South Africa; it is based on long-term, ethnographic fieldwork in Russia and fifty in-depth interviews with human rights lawyers. It will be argued that Russian cause-lawyering in the areas of migration and refugee law has certain specific features that distinguish it from ‘mainstream’ cause-lawyering. Kubal conceptualizes it as ‘cause-lawyering with the grain’: when the lawyers do not always challenge legal systems by bringing impact or strategic litigation but rather work within the parameters and confines of specific legal systems (and their respective flaws and pitfalls): formal and informal rules, power structures, legal mores and customs, vested interests and incentives. ‘Going with the grain’ for Russian cause-lawyering means working with the broader legal system, not against it, even if it ultimately means sidestepping the law in order to help the client. Some scholars question whether this style of lawyering – without transforming the status quo or prevailing arrangements of power but accepting a detrimental precedent or rule, if the client can be made to “fit” within its parameters – should even be considered as part of the cause-lawyering movement. Kubal argues that it should, given the change in the status quo in the lives of the represented individuals and strong connection between law and morality exhibited by the lawyers.
Agnieszka is Lecturer in Sociology at UCL’s Department of Social Science. Prior to joining UCL she was a British Academy Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at Oxford, and a Lecturer in Russian and East European Studies (also at Oxford). Her research interests lie broadly at the intersection of legal and migration studies. She works on migrants’ everyday experiences of immigration law under different national jurisdictions (Russia, Europe), questions of legality and illegality, legal consciousness, legal pluralism. Agnieszka’s current research project: Migration law in practice – a comparative perspective maps migrants’ and refugees’ experiences of the legal environment in Russia thereby advancing new theoretical perspectives on the interplay between migration governance and migrants as agents responding to the new socio-legal environment.