Distance no barrier for Alaska, Duke law journals

There may be more than 4,000 miles between Durham and Anchorage, but the distance between the Duke Law Review and the Alaska Law Review is a little shorter.

In fact, it's about 15 feet.

You can find the two journals in offices on the same dark stretch of hallway in the Law School basement.

And the editors of Alaska's most-circulated legal publication? They are Duke law students, most of whom have no connection to the northernmost state.

"It's a unique situation," said Jeffrey David, executive editor of the ALR and a third-year law student.

The "unique situation" is that, unlike the other 49 states, Alaska has never had its own law school. And without a law school, it is also without a place to publish a scholarly journal about issues in state law.

In the early 1970s, the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law began putting out a publication called the Alaska Law Review. But the organization that oversees the Alaskan law community, the Alaska Bar Association, complained that the journal lacked relevance to Alaskan lawyers, said Paul Carrington, a professor and former dean at the School of Law.

So the Alaska Bar Association began a search for a university that would put together a journal the Alaskan law community could actually use.

When Carrington heard the ALR was looking for a new home, he snapped at the chance to bring the journal to Duke.

"I thought, it's a good deed in a cruel world and it's not doing us any harm, so why not do it?" he said.

That was 1984. Today, the journal has made itself at home in the Gothic Wonderland. Sandwiched between offices of law journals on gender and environmental issues and public policy, the ALR office is decorated with posters of Alaskan scenery and a large sign reading "Anchorage: 4,448 miles." A fleece blanket with a moose face on it lies draped over a couch.

Here a team of approximately 30 second- and third-year law students undertake the work of editing and compiling articles about Alaskan law into the journal, which is published twice a year. The group is very close-knit because the staff is small and the work is intense, said ALR Editor-in-Chief Kelly Taylor, Trinity '02 and a third-year law student.

But another perk stands out to ALR staff members.

"One of the best parts about it is that we actually get to go to Alaska," said John Gochnour, a second-year law student.

Every March when Duke lets out for spring break, the ALR staff travels north to talk with Alaskan lawyers and judges. Their goal is to determine the issues most important to the Alaskan law community so the journal reflects issues that would be useful to those in the field, Taylor said.

In its June 2008 issue, the journal published articles about mining, tribal sovereignty and psychiatric treatment for prisoners.

The Alaska Bar Association, which contracts with Duke to publish the journal, sends a copy to every lawyer in Alaska. This gives the journal, which goes out to more than 3,000 subscribers, the distinction of being one of the most widely circulated law journals in the country, said William Reppy, Charles L.B. Lowndes Emeritus professor of law and faculty sponsor of the ALR.

Taylor, herself an Alaska native, said the journal provides a unique opportunity for Duke law students to connect with a community they would otherwise probably know nothing about.

After Emily Jura, Law '08, spent two years on ALR staff and went on an Alaska trip she called "amazing, just amazing," she moved to Alaska, where she now works as a public defender in the town of Bethel.

"[The ALR] really exposed me to the wonder of Alaska and the complexity of its legal issues," Jura said.

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