“The blog was started two years ago,” Professor Jeremy Telman, who is co-faculty advisor, says. He adds, “Students came to me because I have a blog—the ContractsProf Blog,” the official blog for The Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Contracts. With his experience in that field, it was natural for the students to come to Telman with their idea.
A FIRM FOUNDATION: LEGAL JOURNALISM
Telman, however, knew that it would take more than ambition and commitment to bring the idea of a student blog to fruition. “I thought we needed a firmer foundation for the students, so I asked my colleague Faisal Kutty to develop a legal journalism course, which is now in its second year,” Telman says.
Students establish the foundation Telman calls for in Kutty’s legal journalism course through training in how to discuss controversial cases with reporters, how to write objectively versus subjectively, how to network with media members, and how to pitch freelance articles. Writing assignments include letters to the editor, opinion pieces, press releases, and—of course—blog posts.
Though he and Kutty are co-faculty advisors for the blog, Telman says it is now almost entirely student run. He explains the process, saying, “2L writers draft blog posts every other week. They are reviewed by a sort of executive board of 3L writers, some of whom also write.” Telman adds that a team of faculty advisors reads each post before it goes up on the blog.
Kutty is Assistant Professor of Law at Valparaiso and a noted Islamic Law scholar and human rights activist. He blogs for The Huffington Post, and his articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail and Al Jazeera. By taking his legal journalism course, student bloggers get the opportunity to see their work extend beyond Valparaiso University Law School.
Telman says, “Faisal’s program is phenomenal because I think about half of his students are able to publish on law blogs not associated with Valparaiso University.”
This aligns with Kutty’s goals for the course. In the Chicago Law Bulletin, Kutty discussed how he intended for his course, legal journalism, to teach students how to use the media as a legal tool. In the article he says,
You can not only advocate for your client or participate in discussion but also sometimes start the discussion.
SETTING AN AGENDA
In addition to a firm foundation of writing skills and best practices, the blog also needed interest and focus, Telman says. “The original aim, that proved to be both too ambitious and too humdrum, was to be sort of the blog that would give timely information about the decisions of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but the decisions that come out of the Seventh Circuit Court are too numerous, and most are not the least bit interesting,” he adds. To broaden its scope, the Valpo Law Blog (blogs.valpo.edu/law) also sometimes covers Indiana State Supreme Court decisions.
In posts that address such sensitive and complicated matters as marriage equality, terror attacks, the Affordable Care Act, patent law, and net neutrality, how do the student authors break these issues down so the reader is both interested and informed? According to Telman, they rely on basic principles of writing and legal journalism. He explains, “I think you can get to very high levels of complexity so long as no sentence assumes anything that has not already been explained.” Kutty expands on this in the same Chicago Law Bulletin article, saying, “If you produce good persuasive writing, you can actually set an agenda and define an issue that people run with.”