Rebel with a Law Degree

The revolutionary at law school
The revolutionary at law school

That recently deceased Cuban leader Fidel Castro had gotten a law degree before leading a revolution in his own country triggers all sorts of questions about the role of law and of lawyers, of bar associations and legal education. Think what you like of the accomplishments of Castro, but note that he took an exceedingly nontraditional path for a trained lawyer. One can safely assume that Uncle Fidel set out to change his world. As a law student, did you think that you would change yours? Have you? If you have managed to impact the world and to make it better—at least within your own world view—did you do so by practicing law, or did you venture along an alternative career path?

Cuba

Cuba

Castro himself pursued something of a traditional career, at least initially. He practiced law after graduating from the School of Law at the University of Havana and ran for a seat in the Cuban House of Representatives, but the election was canceled after former president Fulgencio Batista—apparently unwilling to abide by the election’s results—overthrew the government. The Castro and his allies rebelled and Batista fled on Jan. 1, 1959.

Should earning a law degree be all about scoring a big paycheck and acquiring the sometimes unidentified skills of a lawyer, or should legal education serve a broader purpose in perfecting governments and society? And what were all the other lawyers in Cuba doing about legal education and the legal profession both during and after the revolution? What did Castro think about lawyers? What do you?There is probably a book to be written about what it was like having Fidel as a member of a study group, how he was allowed to practice law despite trying to overthrow the government of the nearby Dominican Republic, and what the role of law—and ethical requirements applicable to lawyers—was following the Castro-led revolution in Cuba. One might also wonder about legal education itself, not just the versatility of a law degree but its usefulness in fomenting real and better societal change.

—Lori Tripoli

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