United they stand: Journal of Law and Keith Center forge partnership


By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Perhaps one plus one can sometimes be more than two. Faculty and students at Wayne State University Law School hope that adding two of the pillars of their institution together can produce a greater sum than the two separately.

The Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, dedicated in 2011, honors the vision and mission of one of Michigan's most distinguished jurists, particularly in the area of civil rights.

A student-run publication, The Journal of Law in Society is intended to "provide scholarly discourse on the intersection of law and society." It was founded in 1997 and publishes two issues per year and a Symposium issue. Each issue addresses a particular legal topic and the Symposium publication includes articles by participants.

A "rebranding" effort at the Journal is intended to emphasize the relationship between the two and tighten the focus of their efforts on the city of Detroit.

"The rebranding effort is not trying to change the traditional mission," said Faculty Advisor and Law Professor Peter J. Hammer, "but change the focus of the Journal of Law in Society slightly and focus on civil rights in an urban setting. We want to be relevant nationally, but we also want to use it to focus on issues that are key to Detroit."

Hammer believes that any cooperation between the two entities can be a good fit.

"The Journal of Law and Society has a mission since its origin to be relevant to social issues. How does the law impact society?" he said. "Think about the Keith Center, it's very much concerned with the same issues. How do we use law as a tool to foster social and racial justice. So there's an overlap between the two missions. The idea was that if we could draw a circle around the overlap and really focus on that area we could build strength on strength."

Every year the Journal sponsors a Symposium intended to advance the aims of both the Journal and the Keith Center.

This year the Journal hosted the all-day symposium "Michigan in Transition: The Restructuring of Governance Through Privatization and Corporatization" on March 23. Eighteen experts on three panels discussed the emergency manager system, the possible privatization of Detroit's water system and the acquisition of the Detroit Medical Center by Vanguard Health Systems.

The Symposium was a resounding success, but Hammer points to student effort as the key.

"I wish I could claim all the credit, but that whole program and symposium focusing on corporatization and privatization of cities in transition, with a particular focus on Michigan, was all put together by the Symposium Editor John M. Zervos," Hammer said. "A year ago John was in my office and we had a conversation about a range of ideas. We'd go through a committee process and generate the final selection. Then you work with them to flesh it out. What are the components of the idea and how are the themes related? Who are the best people to select? But, at the end of the day, I have to take my hat off to the students. It really was their ingenuity, effort, energy and insight that made that wonderful symposium come alive."

Zervos points to Hammer's support and thoroughness as a big factor in the event's success.

"It's great for the Journal that we have Professor Hammer for an adviser," Zervos said. "His approach is that you send him an outline for the symposium and he then sends you back hundreds of comments. We went through 17 versions of an outline just for the (emergency manager/privatization) symposium. It was from his involvement that it was successful."

When it came time to "rebrand" the Journal, Zervos believes that three forces had the biggest and most beneficial influence.

"Professor Hammer, the Keith Center and (outgoing Journal Editor in Chief) Chelsea Zuzindlak -- those three elements worked together on a unified vision of the Journal," he said.

Among the fuels that clearly drive the effort is a belief in and love for the city of Detroit.

"We're seeing a trend, not just in law school, where younger people in general are getting excited about Detroit," said Hammer. "It reflects the payoff of our efforts to rebrand ourselves as a law school and center that engage with the city and brings people who care about the city to the school.

"In the last three years, I sense more of our students care about the city and are living in the city. It's great for the law school, but I think it signifies a bigger trend that's very positive for all of Detroit."

Zervos agrees and sees those motivations in his fellow staffers at the Journal.

"It's a very diverse group of people, a lot of whom live in the city, coming together to improve the Journal who really want to help the city of Detroit," he said.

Having just graduated, Zervos intends to continue making a difference after he completes the grind of passing the bar.

"I want to start my own non-profit in the city of Detroit, focusing on the southwest area," he said. "I want it to match up with the vision of the Keith Center and the work I've done at the Journal. That ambition developed through my work here."

"A lot of our Journal of Law and Society staffers, when they graduate, go on to do similar things in the city. The last symposium director started a lot of her work in law school and now she's continuing it. It's a seamless continuation of law school right into the 'real' world."

Published: Thu, May 17, 2012