I decided about a month ago that I had to climb a mountain after I wrapped up my exams and final assignments. In the back of my mind, I figured it was some kind of metaphor for completing law school. So this past weekend I traveled to the mountains of North Carolina with my wife, Shannon, to climb the only mountain that could really epitomize law school: Mt. Mitchell.
Shannon and I took the winding, sometimes terrifying road up to the state park early in the morning. When we eventually got out of the car, the bitingly cold air and steady wind reminded us that we were already a mile up in elevation. But we set foot on the “strenuous” trail and set off to conquer the highest mountain this side of the Mississippi River.
After an hour of hiking and stopping to take in the majestic views, we came to a fork in the trail: the path we were supposed to take appeared to stop after only a few yards; the other path led back down the mountain, away from the peak I so desired to reach. Not to be deterred from my goal, I pushed forward on what I said “looked like a trail.” Shannon reminded me that being known as the couple that got lost on a mountain was not the best way to celebrate. I, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity. I knew generally the direction towards the elusive peak of Mt. Mitchell (up!), but I was not sure what actually lay before us on what assuredly was not the trail. Throwing caution into the wind, we blazed our own path.
The CLO, like my wayward journey into the mountainside, is an opportunity.
When I took over a year ago as Editor-in-Chief, the first article I read was John Hardin’s “Letter from the Editor,” and the first article I published was Thom Robbins’s and Jamie Richardson’s “Letter from the Editors.” In their Letters, my predecessors talk about the legal discourse community and the Campbell Law Observer’s transition to furthering that discussion online. I encourage you to read those Letters like I have because each is incredibly important to the CLO’s growth as a publication. But there is another aspect of the CLO that I have come to realize over the past year. The CLO, like my wayward journey into the mountainside, is an opportunity.
The CLO has accomplished quite a lot over the past year as it has continued to blaze its own path online. There are very few, if any, law student publications quite like ours. Taking the road not traveled, however, provides the law students that make up the CLO the opportunity to create, expand, and explore what it means to be an online-only law student publication and where that fits in the realm of legal academe. Is the CLO a legal blog? No, we are more formal, despite embracing a conversational tone. Is the CLO an electronic law journal? No, we are more AP Stylebook than Bluebook. Is the CLO simply a school newspaper? No, we cover so much more than just Campbell Law-centric stories.
Throughout law school, we are encouraged to think about ways to serve others, and the CLO is no different.
This is an interesting time for law school publications. There has been quite a bit of talk about the decline in usefulness of the most well-known of publications for law students: law reviews. For instance, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has publicly stated in the past that law review articles all too often are not “of much help to the bar.” And Justice Anthony Kennedy instructs his law clerks to instead read various law professor blogs when cases are granted certiorari. To be sure, much of the criticism is not always fair, and law review articles will continue to provide value, despite their supposed decline in usefulness.
This changing view of the traditional law school publication, however, is where I see the opportunity that is the CLO, but with a slightly different angle. When I think of what it means to be a lawyer, the first thing that comes to mind is the opportunity to serve. Throughout law school, we are encouraged to think about ways to serve others, and the CLO is no different. Justice Kennedy’s comments touched on how legal publications should help serve judges, and Justice Roberts touched on how they should be useful to “the bar.” The CLO, as it continues to grow as a publication, certainly can serve these audiences. Where I see the CLO finding its greatest utility, however, is serving the general public.
Just like a client, our readers want to understand the legal issues that might affect their every day lives.
The facts on the ground certainly support the notion that the CLO reaches many more than just those licensed to practice law. We have had tremendous growth in readership and now average close to 5,000 different readers every month. We have experienced first-hand the value of our work to people across the nation, as organizations have republished our articles and everyday readers have contacted our staff to learn more about the topic of an article. Our articles frequently appear on the first page of Google search results. And we have engaged in conversations via Twitter with readers across the globe. We are doing it.
I attribute much of this to a steadily increasing interest in legal news. Just like a client, our readers want to understand the legal issues that might affect their every day lives. Whether it is school policies and practices, reform to the criminal justice system, public health issues, legal issues abroad, or what actually determines a reasonable expectation of privacy, people want to know. This is the service the CLO provides, and not only is it an incredible opportunity for Campbell law students, but it also is an incredible opportunity for Campbell Law School. Campbell law students like me, who have no journalism experience, are able to do something fun and interesting while contributing to a greater objective. And oftentimes the CLO is a reader’s first exposure to Campbell Law School.
I have felt the same excitement for the past year as the CLO has continued to grow into a full-fledged publication.
As Shannon and I climbed over moss-covered trees and up bare rock faces, I had to wonder if I had made the right choice to push into the unknown. What I had not told Shannon was that eventually, in theory, we would come up on another trail that also led to the mountaintop. Yet even then, I was not completely sure if or when we would reach that trail, let alone what would cross our makeshift path in the meantime. I only knew that the hike was even more exhilarating than expected.
I am sure John Hardin, our incredibly supportive faculty advisor Professor Flanary-Smith, and the Campbell Law administrators felt the same emotions two years ago as the CLO pushed into the unknown. I know this because I have felt the same excitement for the past year as the CLO has continued to grow into a full-fledged publication.
The way I see it, the CLO is still in the woods like I was—blazing its own path—and that excites me. Soon enough, like Shannon and I, the CLO will find its way to that peak – 6,684 feet in elevation – and everyone who comes across the CLO along the way will be better for it. Being a part of the CLO for the past two years has been incredible, and I cannot wait to see where it goes next.