UMass Law UMass Law: UMass Law students publish and present their research in law journals and at an international conference

UMass Law UMass Law: UMass Law students publish and present their research in law journals and at an international conference
UMass Law students publish and present their research in law journals and at an international conference

Students probe current topics of interest while working with faculty advisors

JD/MPP '24 and '25
Jordan Lambdin, JD/MPP '24 and '25 of Reno, NV, who is earning a joint law and master of public policy degree from UMass Law and UMass Dartmouth, presented her research paaper at an international genocide scholars conference in Spain.

Domestic violence and femicide prevention. Environmental harm created by Farm Bill subsidies. Failure of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The United States' lack of progress in closing the gender pay gap.

These weighty topics were researched recently by UMass Law students either as a requirement in their upper-level legal writing class or for an upper-level elective. Advanced research and writing projects allow students to shine a light on a legal topic and offer opportunities to share their scholarship at conferences and in law journals.

Along the way, law students learn to sharpen their skills in public speaking and legal writing and think deeply and creatively about a topic important to them while working closely with a faculty advisor. They use legal statutes, law journals, policy articles, statistics, and court decisions as sources for their research.

"Independent Legal Research (ILR) projects offer students the opportunity to dive deeply into a topic of interest and to work closely with one of their professors," said Shaun Spencer, associate dean for academic affairs at UMass Law. "ILRs allow students to explore cutting-edge issues in their future practice areas; hone their skills in legal research, analysis, and writing; and spend an entire course focusing on a topic that they've designed for themselves."

Jordan Lambdin presents at international genocide scholars conference

Jordan Lambdin, JD/MPP candidate '24 and '25 of Reno, NV, presented her research paper, "Call Them by Their True Names: Comparing the United States Violence Against Women Act to Chile's Femicide Laws," at the International Association of Genocide Scholars Conference (IAGS) held in Barcelona, Spain, last July. As an intern, she was part of a small delegation from Genocide Watch, an organization that works to raise public consciousness of genocide as a global problem and raise awareness of specific high-risk situations through monitoring.

In writing her paper, Lambdin applied a legal framework she learned in law school on an international scale. "This paper deals with the legislative definitions found in the U.S. Violence Against Women Act and Chile's respective laws. The objective is to compare the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Chilean criminal codes on domestic violence and femicide, namely the lack of a femicide/intimate partner homicide definition or criminalizing statute in the U.S.," said Lambdin, who is earning a joint law and master of public policy degree from UMass Law and UMass Dartmouth.

In 1994, both the U.S. and Chile passed national legislation defining domestic and intrafamily violence. The U.S., which ranks 34th in domestic violence prevention, does not have a femicide law. "Finding the differences between U.S. and Chilean cultural and legal responses to criminalizing violence against women can be helpful to understand ways the U.S. can grow and change," said Lambdin.

"In many cases and, especially in the U.S., the systems in place are reactive, not proactive. There are very few preventative measures," she added. "Scholars recognize that femicide is a form of genocide. We need to focus on violence against women."

Law student research
Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24 wrote a research paper about the negative envirornmental impact of Farm Bill subsidies that was published in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.

Pandemic led to a career change in environmental law for Matthew Gruneberg

Matthew Gruneberg, JD candidate '24 of Pawtucket, RI, worked as an architectural designer and draftsman for 10 years, but during the Covid-19 pandemic, had some time to think about topics he cared about. An interest in environmental and animal rights law led him to UMass Law, where he wrote his paper, "The Farm Bill Violates Environmental Justice Principles without Recourse," which was published in the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law last summer.

"Government projects must go through protocols about the impact the project will have," Gruneberg said. "You can't commit an environmental injustice. Subsidies to the agricultural industry in the Farm Bill create a lot of harm from a health standpoint. The Farm Bill should be changed; this is critical under environmental justice laws."

Slaughterhouses, Gruneberg argues, are prone to workers' injuries. The factories, often located near poorer neighborhoods, pollute environmental resources like water and soil. 'The waste causes an environmental impact for the community. The subsidies are an incentive to continue these practices. We can feed more people if we use different techniques and focus more on plant-based products."

Gruneberg spent a full semester on his 30-page paper and was advised by his environmental law professor, Faisal Chaudhry. "Every single sentence has a source. Every source had to be checked," Gruneberg recalled.

Completing the paper, he said, "felt great, like a weight lifted. We all have different interests and to be able to do research on your own is nice." Gruneberg interned at the RI Attorney General’s Office in their Environmental and Energy unit.

Student research story
Inspired by a strong interest in criminal justice reform, the rights of prisoners, and women's rights, Savannah Plaisted, JD candidate '24, will see her research paper published in the upcoming issue of UMass Law Review.

Criminal justice reform and the rights of prisoners inspired Savannah Plaisted’s research

Savannah Plaisted, JD candidate '24 of New Milford, CT., researched the lack of a private right of action in the Prison Rape Elimination Act and how that contributes to ongoing violations of the Eighthth Amendment rights of prisoners with no remedy. "I also include a full model statute at the end of the piece, which is a rewrite of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in the way that it should have been written initially, which I hope to pass on to legislators once the piece is finished," Plaisted said.

"I chose this topic because I have a very strong interest in criminal justice reform and in the rights of prisoners," she added. "I have a strong passion for advocating for women's rights issues, so making this piece specific to women's prisons was an obvious choice for me." Plaisted hopes to work as a public defender after graduation

Her paper, written as a law review note and for her upper level writing requirement, was just published in the winter issue of the UMass Law Review.

JD/MBA '24
JD/MBA candidate Anna Harvey '24 of Fort Collins, CO, researched the gender pay gap in the United States. Her paper was recently published in the Labor Law Journal.

Anna Harvey "thoroughly enjoyed" the research process

Anna Harvey, JD/MBA candidate '24 of Fort Collins, CO, is excited to see her article published in the December 2023 issue of the Labor Law Journal. "My article discusses how the gender pay gap in the United States has made little to no progress since the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. It discusses and scrutinizes some of the legislative proposals making their way through Congress, as well as explores the opportunity for the private sector to aid in true change."

Harvey, who has a strong interest in employment and property law, said she "thoroughly enjoyed” the research process. "It allowed me to focus on something that meant a lot to me and was not discussed in courses. I learned and developed a much better understanding of citations, specifically endnotes and footnotes. I also learned about the intersectionality between legal research and what people may consider to be outside the legal realm. Most significantly, I developed my writing skills more than I could have in a classroom and was able to let my own writing style shine."

Faculty enjoy the advising experience while their support is invaluable to students

Harvey is grateful to Professor Rebecca Moor for her guidance through the writing process. "She helped me narrow my thoughts to the specific question I wanted to pose as well as aided with numerous citations that were rarely used in our classes."

Moor found the advising experience rewarding. "As a professor who teaches legal writing to new law students when they are just starting to develop their skills, I love having the opportunity to work with more experienced law students as they hone their writing and research skills on more advanced writing projects. As a mentor, it is deeply rewarding to work with a student from the brainstorming phase to the completed project—and perhaps even to watch that project turn into a published work."  

Lambdin completed much of her paper in a required upper-level writing class with her comparative law Professor Richard Peltz Steele. "He was really great in helping me with my research using a comparative law methodology," she said.

"Professor Chaudhry was super knowledgeable and helpful and posed questions that I never would have thought of," Gruneberg said of his faculty advisor.

Plaisted enjoyed a similar experience. "Professor Laurel Albin was a great resource for bouncing ideas around, noticing areas I had neglected in my paper and should draw more information from. She suggested that I rewrite the law since I felt it failed miserably," said Plaisted.

Albin said that she, in turn, learns from her students. "One of the pleasurable challenges of being an attorney is the ever-changing landscape of the law. Because law changes, through legislative initiatives or changes in judicial interpretation, it is imperative to prepare law students to anticipate such changes," Albin said. "Working with students on scholarly research is an optimum opportunity to introduce or reinforce the evolving nature of law. In addition, the lens through which law students view the law brings a fresh perspective to research projects, affording faculty advisors an opportunity to learn from their students, and keeping faculty on their toes!"

Law students hope their research will have an impact

"Seeing my paper published was extremely gratifying," Harvey said. "I was so excited to receive this offer, let alone from an internationally recognized journal. Seeing it published, seeing my name, the piece I spent hours researching and writing, was surreal and a moment I will cherish dearly. It felt like what I wrote mattered and could make an impact on someone, which I would argue is any writer's main goal."

"To present my research at the conference was overwhelming in a very good way," added Lambdin. "The IAGS monitors genocides around the world and their members are well-known scholars who advocate every day on issues related to genocide. To be part of that discussion is the exact reason I wanted to go to law school, and I am truly honored that I was able to be part of it while still in school. The audience listened intently, and a great discussion followed about the U.S.'s lack of contribution to global efforts to end violence against women."

Interest generated for future research projects

For some of these law students, their research projects were either a continuation of scholarly interests begun in college or initiated a desire for future research after they graduate from law school.

Lambdin hopes to do more research combined with her master's degree in public policy. During her senior year at the University of Nevada, Reno, she wrote her first scholarship piece about the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence in northern Nevada.

Plaisted was published as an undergraduate on another topic related to criminal justice reform and intends to continue researching in this area. She is currently writing a piece on Battered Woman Syndrome and why it should be a full self-defense claim as part of Prof. Albin's Post-Conviction Remedies course. She plans to submit the paper for publication.