Deluge: The Tulane Law Review in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Foreword by Meredith Byars Grabill

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, Grabill recalls her experience as editor in chief of Volume 80 of the Tulane Law Review when the storm struck.

I vividly remember standing with Judge Martin L.C. Feldman and several Tulane Law Review members at the bar at Dos Jefes on Thursday evening, August 25, 2005. Classes had started that week, and earlier in the evening, Judge Feldman had met with Review members at Tulane Law School in his role as the Chairman of the Review's Board of Advisory Editors, as he had done every year during his tenure as Chairman. He welcomed Junior Members to the Review, educated them on the Review’s history of excellence, and charged us all to work hard and publish the Review in the same steadfast and thoughtful manner as our predecessors had done. Then we all met at Dos Jefes for cocktails, a ritual to let the summer end and the school year begin.

The conversation at the bar was on par for a gathering of law students in the presence of a federal judge: interviews, postgraduation employment, clerkships, war stories about summer jobs. But there was also lighter fare--for example, talk of getting a bowling team together named “Darth Bader Ginsberg.” Amidst that camaraderie, the television flickered in the background, and we would glance at it passively when ordering another round. That evening, the weather was clear. WDSU reported the temperature as 93° at Audubon Park with no rain in the forecast, but panned the map to the East Coast of Florida, where the eye of Hurricane Katrina moved over Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

At that time, Hurricane Katrina was a slow-moving, Category 1 storm. Reviewmembers made the usual conjecture about Katrina's path, followed by more stories of evacuating the year before as Hurricane Ivan approached. But from all reports, it appeared as if Katrina would cross Florida, enter the Gulf, and take a sharp right hand turn north over Alabama. “Thinking back,” one Review member told me, “I distinctly remember more than a few bars blaring When the Levee Breaks and offering ‘Hurricane Specials' in the build-up to the storm.” He continued, “We all knew that New Orleans sat below sea level, but like so many other serious issues in New Orleans, the threat of cataclysmic natural disaster was met with a smile and a wink.”

As I suppose is the case with all individuals competing in an intense program such as law school, most Review members with whom I have talked in the years post-Katrina have reported enjoying a very myopic view of themselves during law school: they viewed who they were and the daily choices they made through the lens of their law school experience, always focused on the requirements to meet the challenges of the next exam, get the right clerkship, get the right job-- and just get out. As we approached that weekend, many Review members have told me recently that they “woke up” from that fog of law school (sometimes mistaken for the “fog” of $1 High Lifes, to be fair) to “discover” that something faint and abstract had become very real overnight.

By Monday, August 29, 2005, everyone on the Review had evacuated the city--everyone, apparently that is, but fellow Review member, Jeremy Grabill, and me. Although Review members and their families found their way out of the city that weekend, most only packed for a short sojourn, planning to return to New Orleans--and that law school train that keeps on rollin'--within days of the storm's passing. As one member recalled, “An evacuation the year before for another storm that turned out to be nothing more than a dud left us lazy and ultimately unafraid, so we ended up heading to a friend's house in Austin with swimsuits, flip-flops, and a few T-shirts, expecting to be gone a couple of days at most.”

Of course, we know that Hurricane Katrina changed its projected path in the last hours before landfall in the Gulf, and it did not stay relatively docile as a Category 1 storm. In Katrina's aftermath, all systems at the law school were down, and it became apparent that they would remain down for some time. None of us had access to our law school e-mail accounts; some of us did not receive our student loan disbursements, which had been disbursed to the school, but then were trapped and made inaccessible by the complete shutdown of all electronic systems within the University. Dean Lawrence Ponoroff communicated to the law students through a website developed on the fly. After networking with law school deans across the country, he informed law students that Tulane Law School would be closed for the semester but encouraged students to apply to, and enroll in, other law schools and attend classes on a pass/fail basis until Tulane reopened its doors in January 2006.

While Review members quickly assessed their options in light of family and career concerns, Jeremy and I found our way out of New Orleans two days after the storm and wound our way to his family's home in Pennsylvania. On the drive, while assessing our options, I, as the Editor in Chief, also assessed the options of the Review. And I viewed the Review's “options” more as “responsibilities.” The Review had signed contracts with its authors for publication of their works; those authors had chosen the Review months before, and it would have been too late for them to publish in other journals. This concerned me because academics' tenure-track successes are, on some level, tied to publication. If the Review took a year off, would our authors also be forced to suffer a year's delay in publishing? Therefore, I felt it was the Review's duty to honor those contracts to the best of our ability.

I also felt an obligation to our members and, particularly, our alumni. The Review's capacity for institutional knowledge is one year: the Senior Members tell the Junior Members how to publish the journal. The process of publishing the Review has been refined and improved upon by each Volume's members, and that knowledge was, at the time of Katrina, the accumulation of 80 years' worth of experience. But I feared that an interruption of even one year would significantly disturb the continuum of knowledge, experience, and excellence of the Review.

Finally, I was selfish. I was selfish not only for myself, but on behalf of the other Review members. Having “Tulane Law Review” on one's résumé means something. It does not simply mean that one made good grades in law school; it also is defined by what happens after one receives that invitation to join the Review. Having the experience of being a Review member means that one can manage a project and work in concert with others to attain goals. It means one has attention to detail. It means that one knows how to work hard. It means that one knows how to analyze and critique others' thoughts and theories on jurisprudence. It means one knows what effective, concise legal writing looks like. I wanted our members to be able to write “Tulane Law Review” on their résumés for the rest of their lives and have it mean something. I did not want our Volume to be that Volume with an asterisk beside it.

And after I shared all of these thoughts with the Senior Board via e-mail and over the telephone as I made my way to Pennsylvania, it turned out that they felt the same way. We all felt the responsibility to the authors, to our alumni--and to ourselves--to make publication happen.

And how did it happen? One member commented to me recently: “The one thing that did stand out to me as I was trying to think back that far, was how much easier producing the Review would be if this happened again (knock on wood) with the advances in technology over the past decade. There weren't even iPhones when Katrina happened. Sort of mind-boggling.” Indeed. It is not as if we were manually setting the type ourselves to publish the Review, but it did take some strategy and the kindness of others to make it happen.

I knew we would not be able to publish the Review without a core group of our members together in one place. Over the summer of 2005, I had developed a strong relationship with Sir Basil Markesinis, a fascinating, true gentleman and prolific writer in comparative law, whose article, The Judge as Comparatist, the Review would publish in Issue 1, along with seven essays responsive to that article, all written by internationally renowned academics and judges. Because of the level of difficulty in locating and translating the foreign sources cited in his article, we had already started the “sub-n-cite” process for Sir Basil's article that summer. The degree of his investment in his work and in seeing the publication of that work, plus my personal relationship with him, led me to make my first call to him. Sir Basil sits on the faculty at the University of Texas School of Law, and he intervened on the Review's behalf with then-Dean of Texas Law School, William C. Powers, Jr., who allowed as many Reviewmembers as wanted to enroll for the semester, which had already started.

After hurried phone calls and e-mails with all members, seven Senior Members and five Junior Members dropped everything and made their way to Austin, Texas. As an example, one Junior Member had already enrolled at Vanderbilt, but said that “the morning I was to fly out, I learned that the Law Review was setting up shop at the University of Texas, so I scratched the ticket to Nashville and flew to Austin.” But even though most Review members were not able to join us in Texas, I received many e-mails from members conveying to me that they supported the Board's decision to publish and would do whatever it took to accomplish our goal at the schools at which they were located.

In Austin, some members had prearranged housing, but about half of us did not. One Senior Member took the lead in securing two adjoining, off-campus apartments that six of us shared. We bought a $20 “Kitchen-in-a-Box” at Target. A very kind stranger at the pizza parlor bought us pizza one evening. We went to class. And we tended to travel in packs. But it was a difficult adjustment. As a Junior Member recounted:

When I finally met up with the (fairly substantial, given the circumstances) group of Tulane Law Review students now relocated to Austin, everyone looked just as exhausted and shell-shocked as I felt. Given the circumstances, I somewhat expected to learn that the Journal would just be phoning it in for the fall. I quickly learned instead that Meredith and the rest of the Senior Board planned to stay on track with publication, full steam ahead. As a second-year student and junior member of the Review that had, only several days before, learned of the horrors of the “sub-and-cite” process that would be expected of me, this terrified me. I honestly could not contemplate how I would be able to catch up on classes that had already been in session for two weeks and simultaneously fulfill the obligations expected of me for the journal, all while still trying to find a place to live and figure out whether any of us would ever be going back to New Orleans.

I met with the Managing Editors and the Junior Members who had come to Austin and presented our plan. The Texas Law Review generously gave us a conference room and an office--and most importantly, permission to use their FedEx account. I had contacted the Editors in Chief of each law review across the country in the law schools in which the rest of our Junior Members found themselves, and I asked them to donate copy cards and give our members office space. All were happy to oblige. I paired Junior Members at each school and assigned articles to begin the “sub-n-cite” process--but, in some circumstances, only one Junior Member enrolled at a particular school, so he and his partner would have to “sub-n-cite” long distance over e-mail, which presented its own challenges.

Junior Members at schools outside of Texas would locate the article's sources, use donated copy cards to copy those sources, and send them via FedEx to Austin with their first round of edits. There, one Senior Member was given the unenviable task of standing at a copier for hours and scanning thousands of pages of source material into PDFs. The Information and Technology Department at Texas Law School gave the Review its own password-protected virtual space on Blackboard, a “social software” technology that the University of Texas utilized at that time. All Managing Editors and Junior Members received a Blackboard password, and we uploaded all of the PDFs of the original source material collected by the Junior Members so that the Managing Editors could access the sources online from wherever they were located to complete the second-level review and edits to each article.

The Managing Editors worked with the Junior Members via Blackboard, e-mail, or in person, if possible, to find elusive sources and get the article in shape for the Senior Managing Editor, who was in Chicago. She and I communicated via telephone and sent drafts back and forth via e-mail. I picked up the editing process from there, communicating with authors and every member down the chain to get the article ready. Then Lynn Becnel, the Review's dedicated Publication Supervisor who was working out of her home for most of that semester, and I worked via e-mail. Once Lynn returned an article to me formatted for publication, all of the final “page-reads” were done by Junior and Senior Members in Austin.

And in the meantime, the Junior Members would write their assigned case notes and e-mail them to the Senior Notes & Comments Editor, located in Houston, and his team, who were strung all over the country. And we would all pass our classes. And we would endeavor to obtain summer and postgraduation employment. What could go wrong?

Everyone truly pulled together. We sent the first issue to press the last week of November. Issue 2 went to press at the end of December, and Issue 3 went to press January 9, 2006, when we returned to Tulane for classes. By December 2005, we had already started editing Issue 4; it would contain several articles citing international sources, and we wanted to collect those sources while we still had access to other law schools because the Tulane Law School building still was not open to students at that time.

We returned to Tulane in January. Some of us were living on a cruise ship parked on the Mississippi River because few housing options existed in the city. Rents were high for those apartments that were available. Some of us were still waiting on our student loans to be disbursed. But at least we were back. We published the remaining issues before the end of the semester. The “live” symposium the Review had scheduled for Spring 2006 to give academics and practitioners the opportunity to discuss the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 and relevant issues that had unfolded in the area of class actions had to be shelved as a result of Katrina's effect on the hotels and meeting centers of the city; however, the Review nevertheless published essays and articles from those academics and practitioners in the combined Issue 5/6. In the end, we published 2,043 pages, consisting of forty articles and essays, five comments, five case notes, four book reviews, and memorials.

The return to Tulane was not without sadness. We opened Volume 80 with tributes to Professor Luther Love McDougal III, who passed away in 2004. One of those tributes was written by Professor M. David Gelfand, who had organized a coalition of attorneys, Review members, and other Tulane students during that fall semester to help people navigate the legal system in New Orleans to solve problems regarding rent, insurance, FEMA, and other issues associated with the hurricane. But then Professor Gelfand tragically drowned at the end of September 2005. We were stunned. We closed Volume 80 with tributes to Professor Gelfand. The Review also lost Jean Richardson in late November. Jean served as one of the Review's administrative assistants and had been a member of the Tulane family for forty years.

Of course, given the unprecedented circumstances, all of the authors and our alumni would have understood if the Review had decided not to publish that year. The last time that the Review had an interruption in publication was during World War I, and no one looks back on those years and thinks less of those students for deciding not to publish. In fact, even on a good day, Review members in any given year often tease that the Review is merely a form of indentured service to an outdated, dusty tome that no one reads anyway--what member has not experienced the darkness of a monotonous “sub-n-cite” and wondered “why?” That sentiment was there in early September 2005 and remains now: In light of the abject and very real suffering and loss experienced by individuals, families, and institutions after Katrina made landfall--and the resulting months of chaos--what exactly was the point of publishing a law journal?

Whether we could articulate it at the time or not, the fact is that we needed the routine--and the friendship. The Review saw its members attend twenty-nine different law schools that semester. Some Review members were with their families; most were not. Some attended schools with a large contingent of Tulane students; most did not. Every Review member I talked to then, and even recently, about that “Katrina” semester alluded to how disoriented and isolated we all felt. One member recounted: “It was a strange and confusing time; I think we were all just biding our time, waiting for real life to start again in New Orleans. Of course, it was a new normal and nothing was ever really the same again.”

Yes, publishing the Review under those extraordinary circumstances was hard work--and I particularly recognize the painstaking hours logged by each one of the Junior Members. But it forced each of us to keep taking one step after another and provided a framework of normalcy and routine. It gave us a project to work on and limited our time to wallow in our own depression and confusion. It gave us fodder for some very dark humor--and laughter certainly did not hurt us during that semester. But, most importantly, it created unique bonds of friendship that endure. As one Junior Member told me recently:

Looking back ten years later, I'm very glad I went to Austin. Perhaps it was the trying circumstances in which we were working, but during that semester at Texas, I made some very close friendships with other members of the Journal that I still enjoy to this day. In fact, my wife and I just returned from a long weekend visiting another former member at her family's beach house on the Gulf of Mexico, where we were able to meet each other's infant children for the first time. I wouldn't have made those friendships if I weren't in Austin, mashing out my contribution to Volume 80 of the Tulane Law Review.

I know that every volume cultivates a certain esprit de corps and that every volume earns its war stories. And I know that many longstanding relationships are built each year through members' experiences on the Review. As for Volume 80, we are proud that, under the circumstances, we honored our commitments to our authors and accomplished the mission tasked to us by Judge Feldman and the alumni who preceded us. And we are proud that we were able to do our part to refine and improve upon the institutional knowledge required to continue the Review's excellent publishing tradition, which is particularly special to me as Volume 90 publishes its first issue ten years later. But we are most thankful for the true, lasting friendships that emerged from that year, born of incredible confusion, sadness, uncertainty, and much hard work, but also of our unique experiences, stories, inside jokes, and some things as ordinary as a shared meal.

I would like to thank Matthew Almon, Joseph Escandón, Jeremy Grabill, Kelly Juneau Rookard, Stephen Miles, and Kyle Wilson for providing their memories to help commemorate the experience of Volume 80.

About the Author

Editor in Chief, Volume 80


90 Tul. L. Rev. i (2015)