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1L Journal Experience

L.M., 1L

Before I arrived in New Haven, I worried about Yale’s size. I thought a legal metropolis was necessary to create rich communities of varied interests. Over the last two months, I’ve found that Yale has more dynamic niches than I imagined. One of my favorites thus far has been my journal, the Journal of Law & Humanities.

Journals capture the spirit of student-run groups with an academic twist. YJLH is pitched as “inter-disciplinary”, a journal for students committed to widening the perception of legal scholarship. I figured it would be an opportunity to hang out with the literary types – to discuss lofty ideals of the philosophy of law and the moral undergirding of legal systems. Instead, I’ve found perhaps the quirkiest gathering of students in the law school, with a few PhD students mixed in for good measure.

I learned the diversity of opinions and backgrounds quickly as we debated our first article for the year. While some students commented more on the author’s writing skill, others drew from their political science or history backgrounds to refute the major premises of the piece. I’ll admit, I had disinterestedly read the essay, agreeing here or there, but expecting the 2Ls and 3Ls to carry the conversation. Watching a lively debate unfold between a 1L and history PhD diametrically opposed over the article’s fitness for the journal in the first meeting changed my perception of my potential contributions dramatically. 

The authors and the subject matter of the two first two pieces we considered this semester could not be more different. One was written like a memoir with stream of consciousness digressions while the other followed the style of a historical survey. Both invited heavy criticism and debate over what the journal is and should be. For the second debate, I was much more prepared to take an active role and defend the author’s thesis. The debate that lead up to voting on the article was one of my favorites thus far at Yale: we argued over whether what he proposed was innovative, well-presented, or even necessary. The opportunity to dictate what is published and shape its final form has a fun thrill than animates all of the journal members.

Our discussion carried over from the meeting room to the student lounge and from the lounge to lunch later that week, and friendship blossomed for me and many of the members. Even though some of us still disagree about the initial point, we have found other common ground.

If I’m honest with myself, I had a few utilitarian goals with joining a journal. I’d been advised that if I had any interest in the flagship journal, then I needed to be working on a secondary journal first semester. Also YLJH promised non-pizza dinner at every meeting. (see Feeding the Masses). At this point in the semester, we’ve yet to do most of the tasks generally associated with a first year journal member like source-citing or book pulls. Instead I’ve had the opportunity to advocate for and against articles and vote on whether the submission should be accepted. The time invested reading articles and critically assessing their merit has been worth much more than free dinner or bluebooking practice. I’m looking forward to next Wednesday, the next article, and the next opportunity to cross highlighters with journal members.