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Students’ commitment to social justice drives Journal of Law and Social Change

April 20, 2015

Public service is one of the key ethics at Penn Law, and students committed to public interest legal work — as well as those interested in social justice issues more broadly — have flocked to the Law School’s Journal of Law and Social Change, or JLASC.

JLASC was founded in 1993, and since then, it has become a hub of social justice thought at Penn Law. The journal is currently publishing its eighteenth volume. Each volume contains an average of four issues, and each issue contains an average of three articles, focusing on legal scholarship that engages with public interest issues.

Currently, Sonya Shea and Marie Logan — both third-year students — serve as co-editors-in-chief.

JLASC is unique in that it serves as the heart of the progressive community at Penn,” said Logan. When she joined the journal as a second year student, she found that her peers were actively engaging with a wide range of policy issues that hadn’t necessarily been talked about in their 1L classes.

As editors-in-chief, Logan and Shea manage the editorial staff, including the executive board; run a weekly seminar to discuss social justice issues; oversee the editing process for each issue; and plan events, such as guest speakers and social occasions.

The executive board is made up of third-year students who have a supervisory and leadership role on the journal. Second-year students who join the journal start out as associate editors. They track down sources, conduct basic editing, and participate in both small group and journal-wide editorial seminars.

At seminar, the discussion often includes whether or not a specific piece is right for the ethic of the journal — the editors often ask if an article is, as the staff members say, “JLASC-y.”

Executive editor Nina Martinez explained that for an article to fit into the journal, it needs to speak to an underserved population — “a group of people that needs a voice.”

“We not only want to be a vehicle for social justice literature,” added executive articles editor Hyeji Kim, “but we want to be a vehicle for social justice change.”

The journal seeks out articles that are solution and practice oriented. The editors focus on publishing scholarship that practitioners use in their public interest legal work.

And one of the real benefits to working on the journal, Martinez noted, is that she’s had the opportunity to be steeped the area of law she’s interested in — in her case, employment law.

By working very intensely on an article on the issue of misclassification of workers, Martinez gained a level of fluency on the issue. Next year, she will be taking that knowledge to the New York Legal Assistance Group, where she will be helping provide low-wage workers with access to justice through mediation services as a Skadden Fellow.

And that’s a common experience, Kim explained. The members of the executive board get to know the interests of the associate editors, and try to assign them articles that will allow them to deepen their knowledge.

When Kim was an associate editor, she was given an article on human trafficking — an issue she is very interested in — and being a part of the editing process taught her all about the scholarship and literature around the issue.

“Having the opportunity to read about it, and not only read about it, but then talk about it with a lot of different perspectives in the room was immensely valuable,” said Kim.

Another benefit of the journal for the students is to gain experience in areas of the law outside their comfort zone.

“What I value about JLASC is that I get exposed to social justice arguments in areas that I otherwise wouldn’t interface with in my courses,” said Logan.

Logan has specialized in environmental law during her time at the Law School, but through JLASC, she’s had the chance to learn about immigration, criminal justice, and a host of other issues, including how political reform — an area she never previously studied — affects environmental law.

The journal receives over 100 articles per week, Kim noted, but only 12 to 15 articles make it to the small group review stage. And around three articles make it to each staff-wide editorial seminar, where students discuss and debate them.

The students prize the atmosphere around JLASC, which is democratic and centered on an engaged culture of debate. They also value the sense of collaboration that’s sprung up around the journal, rather than a sense of competitiveness.

“There’s really a sense of community,” said Shea.

For many of the journals at Penn Law, students must sit through the Law School’s annual writing competition to earn admission to the staff. JLASC is a bit different — to join, students can apply directly. They still have the option of going through the writing competition, but it’s not a requirement.

Chelsea Edwards, one of the journal’s senior editors, described the JLASC office as a place of refuge. It’s a place where students can get together and talk about issues, she said, as well as find out what’s going on around Penn Law.

And for the students, their time at JLASC has prepared them well for public service careers. Martinez and executive articles editor Katrina Cohen both were awarded prestigious Skadden Fellowships. Executive editor Rick Mula received an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. And Edwards has two clerkships lined up for after graduation. Other members are going on to work at top firms in Philadelphia and New York.

As for the co-editors-in-chief, after their terms end, Sonya Shea will be joining the U.S. Department of Justice Honors Program, and Marie Logan will be clerking for the Supreme Court of New Jersey.