From left, Kelsey Ruescher, past editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review, and Tomi Williams, current editor-in-chief. Courtesy photo.

The Columbia Law Review has its first black male editor-in-chief, Tomi Williams, who is looking to bring more diverse voices to the publication.

He’s visiting affinity groups, holding writing workshops and planning racial bias training to recruit and retain students of color. First-generation law school students are unlikely to know that being on a law review is crucial when competing for the most competitive jobs, he said.

“The people who really grasp the gravity of it are people finding out the information from parents and siblings,” he said. “It ends up being the same people missing out on these great opportunities because we’re not communicating well enough about the benefits.”

Getting to the top position at an elite law review is one of the last barriers to fall, experts said. Diverse students who sign up for pro bono clinics sometimes feel that they don’t have the time to join a law review. Others are discouraged by the arduous process of applying or see it as exclusionary.

“How do we target people who historically feel law review won’t be helpful for what they want to do in life?” Williams asked. “I think make sure the promises we’re making on the recruitment end that we fulfill those promises when they get there.”

Williams’ appointment coincides with the elevation of students of color to the top positions at  other elite law reviews including Harvard Law Review president Michael Thomas, Michigan Law Review editor-in-chief Megan Brown and California Law Review editor-in-chief Djenab Conde at Berkeley Law.

“From a 1L perspective, if you don’t see anyone who looks like you or very few people who look like you, why would you want to be a part of that?” asked Adriane Peralta, an associate at Sidley Austin in Los Angeles who wrote a legal article about the lack of women of color in top law review positions.

When Peralta served as an editor of the UCLA Law Review starting in 2012, the publication was just forming a diversity committee. Just six years later, women of color hold five of the six top positions, “which is pretty much unheard of,” she said.

“That is very significant because the 1Ls as they’re applying that’s going to truly encourage students of color to at least apply,” she said.

Peralta, who clerked for U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis of the Southern District of New York, said being on a law review is a path to coveted clerkships. The Law review also makes students part of a network of top achievers who serve as references for jobs. It also helps students sharpen their writing and analytical skills, improving grades and job prospects.

“This is a pipeline into the elite parts of the profession, and if we want to see more diversity in the most elite parts of the profession, it really starts with law review,” Peralta said.

Peralta thinks the changes Williams is making at Columbia Law Review should have a lasting impact. That’s because he’s not only trying to attract more students of color for 2019 but he’s also working to institutionalize a selection process that values diversity.

“I think that the law review is a big door opener in our careers, and I think we’re all grateful to be on staff for that reason,” said Kelsey Ruescher, who as Williams’ predecessor helped select him. ”I think that Tomi has a talent not only for big ideas but also for making them happen.”