The Cornell Law Review made a splash this weekend when it elected an all-female executive board—believed to be a first for a flagship journal at a top law school.
Like most other areas of the legal profession, men have long dominated law review participation and the leadership of those journals—which are key stepping-stones to judicial clerkships, prestigious law firms jobs and powerful government positions. A 2010 survey of law review participation found that women made up 44 percent of law review staffers and 33 percent of those in leadership roles.
But times are changing. After dipping below the 50 percent mark in the early half of the decade, female enrollment at American Bar Association-accredited law schools hit 52 percent this fall. And women are especially well represented at the top 20 law schools.
Law.com caught up with Lauren Kloss, a second-year student who was elected to be the Cornell Law Review’s next editor-in-chief, to talk about the significance of an all-female executive board and what that says about how legal education is changing. Her answers have been edited for length.
What was your reaction at the end of the election when you saw the new executive board was all women? We were all so excited. It wasn’t something planned, and it wasn’t something I think we realized until it got to the end and we were up there standing together. We had our male classmates running, and everyone was questioning them as well and participating in the general election process. But it felt like we had done something larger than what we originally expected.
So you had no sense ahead of time that you’d end up with an all-female executive board? Our year, I think, is maybe 52 or 53 percent women, so we knew we were coming in with a strong female class. Within the law review, we have a very strong female class. Going into that week, we could see who was thinking of running for the various positions. Of course we had male classmates running. But we had no idea until the day of, what would come to be. It was wonderful to see the strong presence of women running, and that many women in our class felt empowered to run. And it was wonderful to see our classmates recognizing how capable this slate of students was and that they trusted them to bring the Cornell Law Review into its 105th volume.
What is the process to get elected to the executive board? We started with editor-in-chief. We had three candidates go up—myself and two others, a male and female. We gave a short speech of why we wanted to be editor-in-chief and what we thought we could bring. Then it was about an hour and a half or two hours of question and answer. It ranged from how we would handle conflict within the student body to what our vision was for the upcoming year and if we had a favorite article we worked on as an associate. It was a grueling two hours. They took about 45 minutes to deliberate then brought us back in to announce the decision. Any contested positions thereafter followed the same process, though it was not as long. There are eight total positions on the executive board.
So this is a first for a top law review, it seems? As far as we know. No one has come forward since the Above the Law article landed. I’d certainly be interested if there were anyone else. We are quite proud to think of ourselves as the first all-female executive board. Mary Donlon was the first female editor in chief of any U.S. law review, and it was at the Cornell Law Review in 1919-20. She was the editor-in-chief for Volume 5, so we’re at the 100th anniversary of that momentous occasion.
Do you think the new executive board will function any differently because you are all women? Will you bring a different dynamic? I wouldn’t say it will function any differently. We weren’t elected because we are female. We were elected because our classmates saw that we would be the best fit for the positions. The fact that we are potentially the first top law school to have this will add a bit more excitement. I have no doubt that we’ll be just as capable at fulfilling all the roles and creating a body of work for publication that we are all proud of.
Do you think this says something larger about how legal education is changing? Absolutely. I knew going in that the legal field in general is very male dominated. You can see that in the news. I think we are seeing women professors advance in legal academia. We see which firms are announcing all-female partner classes. I think we feel that we are a part of that movement—that women are a strong force in the legal field and will continue to prove themselves.
How do think the Cornell Law Review is doing on racial diversity? I think there are always more steps to take. We have a woman from Brazil—a Latina—and we have an Asian-Canadian woman who is also on the executive board. I think the board in general will continue with our initiatives to bring greater diversity in terms of the student body, in terms of the authors we decide to publish, and in terms of the subject matter of the pieces we take on. It’s a very open discussion and I think it’s an important one to thread though each of those issues.