Law journals choose innovative formats for 2021 symposia

As spring 2021 classes remain mostly online at the Francis King Carey School of Law because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students working on the school’s law journals are re-imagining the structure of their symposia to accommodate the virtual landscape. And while the downsides of not being in-person—particularly the loss of in-person networking—are challenging, organizers are looking on the bright side and discovering the benefits of online events. 

Emma Kaufman ’21 and Kiana Givpoor ’21 are co-executive symposium editors for the Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class. Their programming, focused on how racial justice movements and renewed outrage over white supremacy culture in the United States impacted the 2020 electoral cycle, will kick off the season on January 27-28. “We were able to cast a wider net for speakers,” said Kaufman, “which has been incredible.” Panelists, she explained, were easier to lock down knowing they were agreeing to a convenient, online commitment, no travel required. 

The result is a geographically diverse lineup, including civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson; deputy legal director of the Florida ACLU Anya Marino’12; and Andrea Benjamin, associate professor from the University of Oklahoma. 

To combat “Zoom fatigue,” Kaufman and Givpoor opted to stretch the traditionally one-day event over two days. 

The Maryland Law Review also typically plans a one-day symposium. Faced with the same concerns about asking participants to stay glued to a screen all day, organizers from Maryland Carey Law’s oldest journal chose to turn their symposium into a weekly discussion series extending throughout the month of February. Each week,” said Taylor Hallowell ’21, executive symposium and articles editor, speakers will explore the intersection of a particular field of law with biotech law.” The four subtopics are health law, food law, environmental law, and intellectual property law. 

According to Hallowell, the online format also enabled her to attract speakers from farther afield than the Mid-Atlantic region from which the symposium typically drawsSpeakers include Prof. Jessica Roberts from the University of Houston Law Center and Janet Freilich, associate professor at Fordham Law. 

With the apt topic, The Remote Revolution: A Discussion Regarding the Impact of the Virtual Workplace, the Journal of Business & Technology Law is also sticking to a one-day symposium, slated for March 26. But other changes are on the way, made easier by the online format. Zachary P. Birnbaum ’21, the journal’s executive symposium and manuscript editor habeen researching ways tenhance the symposium’s interactivity since last year’s event was canceled because of the COVID-19 shut-down. “We are concentrating on using platform tools to make the symposium more distinctly engaging and interactive,” said Birnbaum. “Zoom tools like polls help.  

Birnbaum had a similar experience pursuing speakers as his counterparts, finding it easier to obtain commitments from those who might not be able to spare the time for an in-person event. He felt this advantage particularly in building a program dominated by busy practitioners like Thiru Vignarajah, a partner at DLA Piper LLP and former Baltimore mayoral candidateand Sebastian Kurian ’08corporate counsel at Google. 

Unrestrained by the limits of meeting space, all the journals are opening up their symposia to a larger audiencesuch as Maryland Carey Law alumni and the greater legal community. 

“I am deeply proud of our students for their resilience and adaptability during this difficult time,” said Dean Donald Tobin. “These symposia are going to be fantastic, and I’m looking forward to attending.” 

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