Yale Federalist Society: Lawyering Up Right


April 8, 2015

P.R. (2L)

I won’t lie. It can be frustrating to study at Yale Law School when you don’t identify as a progressive. But the Yale chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies (FedSoc) makes up for that.

FedSoc is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in upholding three principles: the state exists to preserve freedom, the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. FedSoc has stepped in to provide the necessary support for conservative and libertarian students at YLS, and has created a school within a school. For some of our members, FedSoc is the heart of their law school experience.

YLS FedSoc runs a weekly reading group that is bigger than some classes. This semester, we are studying textualism. In past semesters, we have delved into state constitutional law as well as originalism in practice, complete with regular contributions from visiting professor and FedSoc co-founder Steven Calabresi.

Our group hosts guest speakers almost every week—and sometimes up to four times a week! Despite Yale’s well-earned reputation for liberalism, our guest speaker events are among the most well-attended of any student group’s, drawing not only active members, but the student body at large and sometimes even faculty. FedSoc has hosted federal judges, state judges, congressmen, executive branch officials, distinguished law professors, young academics, practicing lawyers, and policy experts.

YLS FedSoc holds regular faculty dinners, student debates, and informal social events. Faculty dinners, meant to promote casual interactions between faculty and members, provide an opportunity for a dozen or so students to spend a few hours with a professor and sometimes his or her family. At one of these dinners, Professor Calabresi mentioned that the Yale chapter of FedSoc used to hold student debates. We decided to revive that tradition this past year by debating and discussing criminal law, net neutrality, economic policy, public education, and other issues. We also socialize over paintball, bowling, games nights, and evenings out.

We provide mentoring and career advice throughout the year. FedSoc has made it a priority to help members tackle the 1L and 2L summer job searches, the clerkship process, and the academic job market. We have a buddy system that pairs up 1Ls and transfers with upperclass FedSoc students. In our regular weekly “office hours” with current board members, we provide advice on how to go through law school as a member of FedSoc more generally.

With the support of the FedSoc national chapter, we’ve built a community of conservatives and libertarians at YLS. As at many law schools in the country, some students may look askance at those who affiliate with a conservative and libertarian organization. In light of this, our greatest accomplishment is nearly doubling our active membership this past year, not only with 1Ls and transfers, but also among 2Ls and 3Ls.

In addition to our close community and this rich schedule of FedSoc programming, being a non-progressive member of the YLS student body enriches my overall law school experience. I receive a better legal education, because each and every day I have to justify my beliefs and my understanding of the world at YLS. I have to compare what my professors and classmates say with what I think, and this enhances my analysis and argumentation skills. I have to question my assumptions and always stay on my toes.

Identifying as a non-progressive is not the easiest thing at YLS, but it’s possible with FedSoc. I’ve never been a fan of doing things the easy way anyway.