Jennifer Ong (L’18): Leading the Georgetown Law Journal

December 20, 2017

In January, Jennifer Ong (L’18) steps down as editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal — having safely guided the publication through a successful Volume 106.

In January, Jennifer Ong (L’18) steps down as editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal — having safely guided the publication through a successful Volume 106 and a fantastic symposium on customary international law that included Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. One of the first openly gay leaders of the Journal, Ong has continued her predecessors’ goals of maintaining diversity on the Journal, both in community and in content. We sat down with her for an interview, as she looks toward the future.

What brought you to Georgetown Law in the first place?

I was drawn to Georgetown because of its clinic programs, externship opportunities and amazing faculty, and I fell in love with the campus and atmosphere when I came to visit. I love living on the East Coast and in D.C., and I could not imagine a better place to go to law school.

Was there a moment when you decided you wanted to be a lawyer?

I always wanted to be a lawyer. I think I had that goal because one of my more influential softball coaches growing up was an assistant district attorney in my county. But I think the moment I knew I wanted to go to law school was during my internship for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. The assistant district attorney that supervised me took me under his wing and made sure I was exposed to all parts of the litigation process. After seeing how dedicated and passionate he was about his work, I knew that was something that I wanted to do as well.

Did you take time off between undergrad and law school? What did you do?

I worked as a patent legal assistant at Google for two years.

Once you got to Georgetown, what put you on the path to the Georgetown Law Journal?

My friends, both at Georgetown and at other law schools, encouraged me to write on to a journal. They all enjoyed their journal experiences and thought it was a good opportunity not only to improve writing skills but also to get to know more people at the school.

What were your goals for the Georgetown Law Journal?

Our goal for this year was to create a forum for the exchange of ideas — to create an inclusive environment and community where our members and readers feel comfortable engaging with people, perspectives and ideas that challenge their own existing beliefs. This is why our volume is committed to building on the diversity initiatives championed by our predecessors.

My election is a sign of the Journal’s progress in the diversity arena. I was not elected because I was gay. I was elected because of my ideas for improving the Journal: doubling down on our diversity efforts, enhancing the Journal’s community and culture, and streamlining our processes. But the fact that I am one of the first openly gay editors-in-chief in 106 volumes means that we still have a lot of work to do.

The lack of diverse voices in the legal community starts in law school and pervades every level of the profession: from law firms, prosecutors’ offices, public defenders’ offices and more. The fact that these voices remain underrepresented is a lost opportunity. Bringing in folks with differing viewpoints and life experiences will make the legal profession stronger. I am happy that the Journal is doing its part to create an inclusive environment for these viewpoints and experiences, and I hope that we can continue, and strengthen, our commitment to diversity in the future.

When does your term end?

My term will end in the last week of January.

What have you enjoyed the most?

The people and the community. There are 116 people on the Journal, most of whom I had never met before getting on Journal. As editor-in-chief, I am fortunate in that I have had the opportunity to sit down and talk with every single Journal member at least once. Many of my closest friends are people that I met through Journal. I’ve also grown especially close with the senior board members, which makes a lot of the work and late-night meetings much more enjoyable.

Professor Sherman Cohn said when he was on the Georgetown Law Journal in the 1950s, he made friendships while editing at two, three, four o’clock in the morning. Is that still true?

I think it is true that a lot of friendships are made while editing. These days I’m not sure the friendships are made quite as late as 4 a.m., but a lot of friendships do form in the Journal office and during late night sessions.

At the GLJ banquet last year, you met a lot of returning editors-in-chief. Did the alumni give you advice?

They advised me to ask for help and, more specifically, to ask them for help and to use them as a resource — whether it’s something big or small on the Journal. This struck me, because I saw that the Journal was a family, whose bonds remained strong long after graduation.

They also told me to enjoy the experience. The year goes by very quickly, so they wanted to make sure that I took a step back sometimes so that I could appreciate everything that was going on around me.

What would be your advice to future members of the Journal?

I would give the same advice as my predecessors: you’re only in a leadership position for one year, so it’s hard to accomplish long-term goals. Coming in with a strategy from the beginning, therefore, is crucial. It’s important to ask how things were done before to make sure you are not repeating mistakes or reinventing the wheel. I certainly had lengthy conversations with my predecessor, Peter Baumann (L’17), about his approach to Volume 105, and I think that helped guide Volume 106 in the right direction.

What has been the most challenging thing for you as editor-in-chief?

Implementing our long-term goals. We are only editors for one year and the first few months are spent getting up to speed on our new positions and learning how to run the Journal. By the time we finally gain some ground on those goals, it will be time to transition. We’ve tried to break down our plans into concrete goals that can be implemented in one year with the hope that when we pass the plans down to the next class they will continue moving forward with their plans if they think it is a good idea.

Thoughts on Volume 106?

I am excited for our volume. Our Articles, Notes and Online committees have put together a great lineup and our last issue, Volume 106.6, will feature articles from our symposium panelists. We also have a podcast-like interview with Professor Martin Lederman that should be coming out in January. In the interview, Professor Lederman discusses his Volume 105.6 article, “Of Spies, Saboteurs, and Enemy Accomplices: History’s Lessons for the Constitutionality of Wartime Military Tribunals,” and the Supreme Court’s recent denial of the al Bahlul cert petition.

Is there anything that you think would surprise alumni if they walked into the Journal office today?

I think the alumni would be surprised by our diversity. Looking at the board of Volume 106, there are a lot of [people] that you wouldn’t have seen fifteen or twenty years ago. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a publication, and I think they would be as well.

I also think a lot of them would be surprised by the Journal office itself. An alumnus came to visit during the Reunion Weekend and told us about the old offices in McDonough and the tight hallways that made it hard for two people to pass by each other at once. So I think they would be surprised by the space we have now, and they might also be surprised to know that we still use galley proofs.

What are your plans now?

In the spring, I will be doing the new practicum with new Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and after graduation I will be clerking on the Second Circuit with Judge Denny Chin, and then in the Northern District of California with Judge Beth Freeman.