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DIY Journal — Students at the KU Law Faculty were frustrated by the practical focus of their respective degrees so they took matters into their own hands, and founded a peer-reviewed journal.
Retskraft, meaning ‘the force of law’, is the first student-driven jurisprudence journal in the country. Its student-only board wants to establish a more academic environment for law students at the university and the journal is the start of that process.
In the twelve months since they started the project, they have produced a first issue, which counts among its subscribers the Danish Supreme Court, the two appeal courts, the City Court of Copenhagen, and the Maritime and Commercial High Court.
Right now there is a big focus on learning rules and getting good grades, but we do not learn to have a critical point of view on why the rules are as they are, and how they are a part of the society.
Magnus Esmark, founding member of law journal Retskraft
The journal offers a platform for students to explore their academic interests and improve their skills by writing and submitting articles to a thorough peer review process, as close to the standard of conventional legal research as possible.
The review panel consists of researchers recognised by the Faculty of Law and writing classes are being provided by Professor Mikkel Jarle Christensen. Additionally, extensive feedback is provided to those articles that don’t meet the standard, unlike established journals, to allow the students to improve and rewrite.
However, the story doesn’t end there.
The journal intends to be more than just a CV addition to its contributors and offer ‘new, original, and critical studies of the law and its effects’. Moreover, Retskraft is a vehicle for a wider project: not just to put measures in place that would generate the best journal possible, but to shift the culture itself.
Magnus Esmark, founding and board member, explains:
“Our ambition [is] of a wider academic culture’. That culture ‘is first and foremost promoted by our journal, that encourages our fellow students to write articles and thereby [teaching] our self and each other to think critically and to try and understand law as a mechanism of social regulation and a part of the society.”
Thinking critically is central to the project. Esmark continued: “Right now there is a big focus on learning rules and getting good grades, but we do not learn to have a critical point of view on why the rules are as they are, and how they are a part of the society.”
He mentions a simple example of this from his third semester:
“We learn about a specific kind of mortgage called virksomhedspant, that was intended to be useful for strengthening the liquidity of firms. On our syllabus was a thorough understanding of the technical functions of the rules, but not a word was mentioned about the massive critique given by several scholars, arguing that this new kind of mortgage did not in any way improve the liquidity of the business community, but only served to move value from smaller creditors to the financial sector in cases of bankruptcy, thereby actually doing the exact opposite. As I said, this is just a small example to show how we are taught rules, but not how the rules interact with the rest of the society.”
To meet this aim, the students haven’t limited themselves to the field of jurisprudence. In order to explore ‘how the rules interact with the rest of society’, Retskraft is expressly intended to be interdisciplinary, welcoming contributions from students of political sciences, economics, the humanities, and social sciences, among others. The articles in the first edition touch upon economics and political science, for instance.
But this group of students has loftier ambitions still. They are not limiting their aspirations to Copenhagen, to Denmark, or even to Scandinavia: the journal welcomes submissions in English, as well as the Scandinavian languages, and its first Editorial emphasises the need to be aware of the international contexts of any legal debates. Additionally, the board is making links with similar projects in Amsterdam, Cork, and Florence. They would also like their project to inspire other students to consider the benefits of student-run journals in their own disciplines.
The journal intends to be more than just a CV addition to its contributors and offer ‘new, original, and critical studies of the law and its effects’
The four articles in the first edition are the standard the board hoped for when they began the project,
The success they have had so far has encouraged them to work on the next stages. Lessons are underway to help students with their submissions for the next edition (it will be published biannually). They are building a colloquium for law-students and law-related discussions to create the culture of thinking critically and planning a seminar for the students writing their bachelor’s thesis in the spring, where students will be encouraged to write a thesis with an innovative and new approach to their overall subject.
With such early markers of progress, the dedication of its board, and the support of the Law Faculty, it seems Retskraft could be a successful journal. Whether or not the wider aim of changing the academic culture remains to be seen, as the Danish legal education has remained consistent in its approach.