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‘A Proud Tradition’: Creighton Law Review celebrates 50 years

The Creighton Law Review publishes its 50th volume this academic year.On the occasion of the publication of the first volume of the first edition of Creighton Law Review 50 years ago in 1967, no less than U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote a note of welcome and congratulations for the latest voice joining the ever-rushing stream that is legal commentary.

“A strong law review is a forum in which able minds subject existing legal principles to critical analysis within the context of changing conditions and in which imaginative alternatives to today’s solutions are aired and tested through vigorous informal debate,” Warren wrote. “As such, the virile law review is a repository of fresh ideas not only on the domestic issues with which our dynamic society must grapple, but also on the international problems which must be solved if we are to establish a peaceful community of nations.”

A copy of Warren’s essay hangs prominently on a wall in the modest offices occupied by Creighton Law Review, a source of inspiration for 50 years’ worth of editors and staffers, the Creighton School of Law students who produce the review in its entirety.

“I’ve quoted that piece many times, talking to groups of lawyers and law students,” said Ron Volkmer, BA’66, JD’68, recently retired professor of law who has the singular distinction of having served as both the editor-in-chief and faculty adviser for the Creighton Law Review. “Even 50 years later, it’s still on point as to how an academic journal can address the issues in the legal profession, giving students a chance to have a hand in enterprising academic research. This is entirely a student effort. Advisers are liaisons with the faculty, they can help if needed, but this is driven by the students.”

For its half-century sending legal research and insights into the wider world of the law, Creighton Law Review has attracted the top law students at Creighton. Already immersed in one of the more work-intensive courses of study in the academy, the second- and third-year law students who find themselves poised to join law review — through superior classroom work and a writing competition — agree to take on not only their course load, but the added effort of reading, writing, editing, researching and producing four editions of the review and conducting a major ethics symposium in the spring.

“It’s a challenge,” said Claire Wilka, BA’14, a third-year law student from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who took the editor-in-chief mantle this spring. “Student-run journals are great for getting experience and if you put it on a résumé, everyone knows what law review is. But more than that, it’s an opportunity to learn in a new way. We’re not the experts, the authors are. But we have to go through, line by line, word by word, getting the citations right, making sure the writing is precise. You can get bogged down in the little things, but you learn a lot about the importance of those little things and how they make the article stronger overall. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.”

Like most academic law reviews, Creighton’s instrument is part of a larger conversation about what makes the law and how the law changes. Alongside citing case law in decisions, judges often consult law review articles on specific and often difficult topics. Lawyers will bring articles into arguments and show how and why thinking is changing on certain issues.

Citing a 1938 Harvard Law Review article by W. Barton Leach, an authority on property law, Volkmer said Leach took a notoriously arcane subject — the rule against perpetuities — and boiled it down to discrete, digestible components, such that the piece, more illuminating than argumentative, is now one of the most cited articles in history. Because the article was explanatory, it was not regarded as scholarly. Volkmer said for Harvard Law Review to publish a lead article that did not fit the traditional scholarly model set a precedent, one he also sees coming through at Creighton.

“Law review articles serve the purpose of helping people, especially practicing attorneys, understand the law,” he said. “Not all law review articles have to fit the model of being an in-depth critique of a case or a legal principle. Law review articles that serve the needs of the practicing bar have always been a hallmark of the Creighton Law Review.”

In the Omaha legal community, where the Creighton School of Law is well represented, Creighton Law Review is often found in law offices and judges’ chambers. In the spring, more than 300 Omaha lawyers will also flock to the law review’s symposium.

“We hope we are visible among the lawyers in Omaha,” Wilka said. “More lawyers are seeing the benefit of keeping up with the law review and for lawyers who went to Creighton, it’s a way to keep up on what’s current. But we also strive to enter that national and international conversation, to get articles from everywhere and keep a conversation going.”

Following Volkmer’s retirement after the 2016 academic year, Nick Mirkay, JD, LL.M., associate dean for administration and planning and professor of law, took on the role of faculty adviser for Creighton Law Review. Mirkay said the introduction to the penetrating academic study of law and the practice of the profession are signature experiences for the student editors.

“The best part of law review is that students are exposed to different viewpoints that stretch the law and shape it differently,” Mirkay said. “It’s a center for intellectual curiosity. Besides a lot of the technical work to be done, and there is a lot of it, being on law review is an introduction to the academic pursuit of the law and to the profession. We are increasingly seeing more practitioners submitting articles dealing with real problems they encounter and offering solutions. It’s a way to show that the law is a living thing, a way to give back to the profession. For the students, it’s a way to think and get their hands around the nuances and the changes that happen every day in the law.”

Looking back through the 25th anniversary volume, Wilka landed on an idea the editors that year had: giving each editor-in-chief from the journal’s foundation an opportunity to submit an essay extolling the virtues of Creighton Law Review and reminiscing on the time they spent in nurturing their particular volumes to press.

Wilka and the editorial staff have invited the 25 editors since the quarter-century celebration to submit similar essays, to be published in each of the four editions of the 50th anniversary volume. The idea stemmed from a conversation Wilka had with her predecessor in the editor-in-chief’s chair, Spencer Murphy, who she credited with being the latest in a long line of dedicated leaders for Creighton Law Review.

“It’s definitely a humbling experience, too, because you realize you’re just the latest person who is helping put this together,” Wilka said. “Going back and reading through some of these essays, you realize how important it became to the editors who worked so hard. It’s a proud tradition.”

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