Institutions – either naturally[1] or purposefully[2] – resist change. Despite its prestige, the Tennessee Law Review is no different.

When I started as Editor-in-Chief, it only took a few weeks to elucidate how an organization with both financial and social capital can be such a stranger to progress: it simply feels easier to not change anything. There are fewer emails to send, smaller to-do lists, and a consistent-if-uninspired workforce all for the small price of maintaining the status quo. Suddenly, the organization is ten years down the road and ten years behind its competitors. Progress is essential to the relevance and success of a law review, so the rhythmic ease of regularity quickly becomes a death knell for the institution and the value it provides.

When I stepped into this role, the issues associated with stagnation became clear. It was not some stroke of genius – dwindling resources and waning engagement quickly took the sheen off of what seemed like a glitzy role. Still, the ingredients for a positive force remained. I adopted two policies that guided my tenure and, upon reflection, demonstrate a principle that I hope guides the law review in the coming years. Perhaps that principle will help you, too.

My first policy was guided by some useful advice I received from Professor Penny White, for whom I was a research assistant. She told me that “academic writing that doesn’t offer a solution is boring.” Professor White followed this advice – the papers she wrote offered a solution to the problem they were identifying, and she only wrote about problems that were important to today’s legal field. I incorporated this wisdom by only offering publication to articles I felt identified a clear and pressing issue and then offered a solution to that issue based on its findings. This meant that our articles pushed not only our institution, but also the broader legal discourse forward.

My second policy was founded on my perspective as a law student. I wholeheartedly believe that student voices are essential to the health of our legal community. The optimism and energy of law students, yet to be bruised by the forces of institutional resistance, provide the bright-eyed intentions necessary to (re)inspire the established members of the legal community and remind them of the goals they set for themselves when they were law students. So, I re-centered an emphasis on student writing opportunities, which allowed us to foster conversations that featured the passion necessary to effect change in our school, city, state, and nation.

In hindsight, the biggest accomplishment of this progress-focused approach was not any of the work I was able to finish. Rather, it was the group of individuals it attracted to take over the law review’s leadership once I am finished. This incoming group of leaders has snatched up the initiatives I proffered and carried them well past the marks I set for myself. These leaders are expanding opportunities for motivated writers to share their voice and offer unique solutions. They are putting student opportunities at the heart of their efforts, capturing a youthful energy and allowing it to flow upwards to the rest of the school. Above all, they are not looking backwards.

Herein lies the principle I hope remains beyond my years: progress yields progress. While a law review stuck in its ways may attract members happy to maintain the status quo, a law review pushing forward will attract members who strive to improve the conditions around them. A law review (or other institution) that can cultivate that energy may not be able to entirely overcome the institutional roots that prevent instant improvement, but it will certainly weaken those roots and plant new seeds of growth.

In the future, I am confident that I will see a law review better than anything I could have ever imagined. For now, I will look around and appreciate the energy that will get us there.

[1] Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance 71–104 (1990)

[2] See generally Carol Agócs, Institutionalized Resistance to Organizational Change: Denial, Inaction and Repression, 16 J. Bus. Ethics 917 (1997).