The Top 10 Stories Of 2021
It's actually two lists: the 10 most-read stories, and my 10 personal favorites.
Welcome to Original Jurisdiction, the latest legal publication by me, David Lat. You can learn more about Original Jurisdiction by reading its About page, you can reach me by email at email@example.com, and you can subscribe by clicking on the button below.
Original Jurisdiction launched in December 2020, so the year 2021 represents this newsletter’s first full year of operation. I’ll conduct a more comprehensive assessment in May 2022, the one-year anniversary of my activating paid subscriptions, but so far I’m cautiously optimistic that I can make a living from producing this publication. Thanks to all of you, both readers and paid subscribers, for helping me reach the one-year mark.1
With 2021 drawing to a close, now is a good time to look back on the year’s most notable stories here at Original Jurisdiction. If you missed some of these pieces, I’d encourage you to check them out (especially over the next few days, which should be quiet in these pages and in the news cycle more generally).
I’ll start with the top ten stories for 2021 based on readership, i.e., total views (including both newsletter opens and views on the web):
The Top 10 Most Prestigious Law Firms In America. I broke down the 2022 Vault 100 rankings—and then , for historical perspective, compared them to the 2007 Vault 100 rankings.
Trump Derangement Syndrome? 4 Leading Lawyers Who Lost It Defending The Donald. I profiled four once-respected conservative lawyers who lost their way while defending Donald Trump—and tried to draw lessons from their descents into infamy.
Tiger Mother Amy Chua Roars Back At Yale Law School. This was my first post about the Yale Law School scandals—starting with “Dinner Party-gate,” in which Professor Amy Chua was (falsely) accused of hosting drunken dinner parties during the pandemic for federal judges and YLS students.
The Yale Law School Email Controversy. I interviewed Trent Colbert, the 2L at YLS who sent the notorious “trap-house” email—which some saw as racist, but many of us did not.
All About Amy (Chua), The Law Professor We Can't Stop Talking About. I read and digested five articles and 20,000 words about the Tiger Mother and Dinner Party-gate, so you didn’t have to—you’re welcome!
As The Yale Law School World Turns. In advance of a major faculty meeting to discuss giving Dean Heather Gerken a second term, I chronicled the latest developments in the New Haven soap opera.
The Latest (Ridiculous) Controversy At Yale Law School. This was my first story about Trent Colbert’s trap-house email—and about how the situation was, in my opinion, egregiously mishandled by certain YLS administrators.
Yale Law School And the Federalist Society: Caught In A Bad Romance? The Yale Federalist Society was blamed for the trap-house email, even though the organization had nothing to do with it—because, well, it’s always FedSoc’s fault.
The Newest Insanity Out Of Yale Law School. I took a close look at an antiracism training gone awry—and what it said about the current state of discourse at Yale Law, in legal academia, and at elite educational institutions more broadly.
The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done? I reported on internal debates within the Federalist Society about how to respond to the events of January 6, then offered recommendations of my own on the subject. This story went viral and got picked up by several other outlets—e.g., All In with Chris Hayes—and it has been Original Jurisdiction’s most popular story since its publication almost a year ago.
As you can see—and this should surprise no one who has spent more than five minutes on the internet—controversy drives traffic. With the exception of story #10, which reflects lawyers’ (perhaps unhealthy) obsession with prestige, all of these stories lie at the intersection of law and politics or have something to do with the “Woke Revolution,” cancel culture, or whatever you’d like to call it. Quite remarkably, stories #2-#8 are all about controversies at my alma mater, Yale Law School. My readers love drama and prestige—and YLS has lots of both.
To be honest, even though stories about incendiary subjects drive traffic and subscriptions, I don’t love writing them. I find covering hot-button topics to be stressful and exhausting. In fact, one of the reasons I left Above the Law in May 2019 for my two-year detour into legal recruiting was because I was tired of the toxicity of Trump-dominated discourse (and even though Trump is out of office, the polarization persists).
For my second top-ten list, I’d like to share with you ten stories that are some of my personal favorites. In putting together this list, I excluded stories on the top-ten-by-traffic list, as well as stories behind the paywall (such as installments of Judicial Notice, the weekly legal news roundup I send to paid subscribers each weekend). My goal is to give you a sense of the quality and range of work I produce at Original Jurisdiction—the work that your subscriptions support.
Here are my personal top ten stories for 2021:2
In Memoriam: Judge Robert A. Katzmann (1953-2021). As the year draws to a close, it is fitting and proper for us to reflect on the members of the legal community whom we lost in 2021—and one of our greatest losses was that of Judge Katzmann, a great judge and an even greater human being.
‘A Judge’s Mind And A Hero’s Heart.’ I’ve always enjoyed writing human-interest stories about notable figures in the legal world, so it was a pleasure for me to tell the heartwarming story of how Judge Robert (Bobby) Bell of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals saved a man’s life. (Two of my other favorite human-interest stories of the year: Professor Philip Bobbitt getting knighted, and Biglaw associate Kei Komuro marrying a Japanese princess.)
Notice And Comment: My Cousin Vinny. In “Notice and Comment” posts, I try to get discussions going among the readership. I don’t always succeed—but I did in this post, in which I shared the disagreement I have with my husband Zach over that classic of legal cinema, My Cousin Vinny.
The Biden Administration's Latest Slate Of Judicial Nominees. I have long been known for writing “inside baseball” stories about the federal judiciary, going back to my first blog, Underneath Their Robes—so it was fun to research and write this post, a deep dive into the Biden Administration’s judicial picks.
Will Justice Breyer Retire? Reading The Clerk Hiring Tea Leaves and Confession Of Error: Justice Breyer Is Hired Up For October Term 2021. Another topic that I have covered for many years—formerly at Underneath Their Robes and Above the Law, and currently here at Original Jurisdiction—is Supreme Court law clerk hiring. In these paired stories, which should really be considered as one story in two parts, I analyzed Justice Breyer’s clerk hiring and correctly predicted that he wouldn’t retire at the end of last Term. (Other stories about SCOTUS clerks include “where are they now” posts, looking at what they’re up to ten years after their clerkships, and a spreadsheet showing the feeder judges and law schools that mint the most SCOTUS clerks.)
The Ghislaine Maxwell Case: An Interview With Mitchell Epner. I interviewed Mitch Epner—a former colleague of mine from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and an expert on sex-crime prosecutions—about the prosecution of Ghislaine Maxwell. Yesterday Maxwell was convicted on almost all the charges she faced, as Mitch predicted. (I’ve written a number of stories based on interviewing a leading expert about a topic in the news, such as Professor William Birdthistle about SPACs and Professor Aaron Wright about DAOs.)
Notice And Comment: A Biglaw Associate's Lament. The past few years have been very good to Biglaw associates in terms of compensation—but money can’t buy happiness, as one associate’s bracingly candid comments make clear.
Is Viet Dinh The Most Powerful Lawyer In America? In a wide-ranging interview, I asked tough questions of Viet Dinh, chief legal and policy officer at Fox Corporation, about many different topics—including reports that he’s basically running the show at the powerful but polarizing media company. My interview was picked up by a number of other journalists, including Ben Smith of the New York Times.
6 Tips For Training During The Pandemic. How are law firms and law schools rising to the challenge of teaching and training during the pandemic? Surprisingly well, as I learned during the course of reporting this in-depth analysis full of practical advice. It’s a story that I believe should have been more widely read than it was at the time—which is why I highlight it here, in the hope that some readers might return to it.
From Law Student To Lawyer To Host Of The 'Today' Show: An Interview With Savannah Guthrie. This tweet by Alex Su, lawyer turned TikTok star, is funny ‘cause it’s true:
Which explains why I had such a great time interviewing Savannah Guthrie of the Today Show about her gutsy decision to walk away from a promising legal career to pursue her dream of a career in broadcast journalism. I confess to a weakness for both celebrities and happy stories, which is why I have such affection for this inspirational post. It was also a lot of fun to report; Guthrie was a delight to interview.
And so there you have them: ten top stories based on traffic/readership, and ten stories that were personal favorites of mine. Thanks once again to all of you for your readership and support of Original Jurisdiction, which make stories like these possible.
Barring something unforeseen, this is most likely my final post of 2021. I wish you and your families a very happy new year, and I look forward to seeing you in 2022.
Thanks for reading Original Jurisdiction, and thanks to my paid subscribers for making this publication possible. Subscribers get access to Judicial Notice, my time-saving weekly roundup of the most notable news in the legal world. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments about Original Jurisdiction, and you can share this post or subscribe using the buttons below.
Yes, I do have other sources of income—specifically, writing for newspapers and magazines, and paid speaking engagements—but they’re far from a point where I can earn a living from them. A typical writing project for a print publication pays a few hundred dollars, and while I charge more for speaking gigs, I haven’t been doing that many of them, especially during the pandemic. Although it’s not there yet, Original Jurisdiction is much closer to being a livelihood.
Two quick notes. First, the rank order of these stories is idiosyncratic and far from rigorous. I actually toyed with not ranking them at all—but the whole point of a top-ten list is to rank the items, and so I have.
Second, limiting the stories to 2021 does exclude two stories that I definitely enjoyed writing and otherwise would have been contenders: What's Going On At Boies Schiller Flexner?, an interview with David Boies about goings-on at his firm, and What's it Like to Argue Before the Supreme Court — for the 30th Time?, an interview with Kannon Shanmugam on the occasion of his 30th SCOTUS argument (which was virtual, as arguments were back then).