Meet ‘Columbia Law Review’ Editor in Chief Margaret Hassel ’24

The prestigious journal can be more valuable for its members than just a résumé line, she says.

Blonde woman with glasses at desk with coffee mug

When the phone call came to let Margaret Hassel ’24 know she had been selected as editor in chief of the Columbia Law Review, it was 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and she was on the Q train rumbling through Brooklyn. She had just enough time to say “thank you” and “I accept” before the train went into a tunnel, and the call dropped.

Hassel, a public interest focused student from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, spent the rest of the train ride feeling a bit daunted by the prospect of leading a 100-person staff, very curious about what the job would really be like, and most of all, “I was surprised,” she says. “I was a little bit worried that you had to be cool to be editor in chief. I don’t think I’m cool. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool. I’m rarely up at 11:30 p.m.”

What Hassel does bring to the leadership of the publication founded in 1901 is her love of student-led law journals, both their role in legal thought and the process of creating them. It began during her 1L year working for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law and continued through her 2L year as a member of the Law Review

Legal scholarship is unique in that it’s disseminated through student-led journals, which forces the articles to be relatively accessible, Hassel says. “In some other fields, academic work really is talking to other experts. Whereas for elite law professors trying to publish [in a law journal], you have to at least be talking to a 2L—because they are the ones picking your piece. And I think that’s special.”

Working on the Law Review also brought Hassel a new community in her second year, when 1L class sections are dispersed and students are no longer with the same cohort every day. “Being able to spend time with Law Review people made 2L less lonely for me, and a lot of that is because everyone is kind and welcoming,” she says. 

As editor in chief, Hassel is involved in the final read of each published article—she loves editing, she says—and she relishes the collaborative nature of the journal process. “I work with really, really talented people. Whatever I can do to facilitate their vision for their own projects—I want everyone on staff to see me as their assistant and their teammate in whatever they want to do and whatever projects seem important to them.”

In recent years, Law Review editors have worked to expand the journal selections to include early career scholarship and a greater diversity of authors. Hassel and her administrative board are interested in pushing the boundaries further. She is excited about an upcoming article on “participatory law scholarship,” in which a Drexel University law professor, Rachel López, discusses writing a law review article with two co-authors who had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, one of whom was still incarcerated at the time of writing. 

The Law Review is a “particular kind of publication that publishes a particular kind of academic work. But where is the availability for us to also expand what that looks like, and what’s considered academic work?” she says. “It’s been a topic of conversation we’re excited about.”

For the Law Review staff, a focus of Hassel’s tenure as editor in chief is to ensure that all the facets of the journal that were shut down by the early stages of the pandemic are fully revitalized. The Law Review, she says, should offer students more than just a line on their résumé in exchange for a lot of hard work. To be sure, that line is “highly valued,” she says, “but I think that’s not quite enough to compensate for the work that people do. 

“One of my goals has been, what can we do to make Law Review valuable to the members—I’m thinking of them as members and not as staff. We’re not paid staff that are doing this work; we’re members of an organization,” she says. As a result, the Law Review’s “development team” is creating opportunities for professional advancement, mentorship, wellness, and socializing—leading Hassel to joke that the Law Review has become a “development juggernaut. We’ve already had so many parties.”

Pursuing Public Interest Paths 

Working on the variety of legal scholarship in a law journal appeals to Hassel just as she enjoyed the diversity of the 1L curriculum. (“I know, heresy,” she says.)   

“It’s such a substantive learning experience. I read so much—all of our pieces—and it gives me lots of ideas about what’s going on in the legal world,” she says. “I think that’s a nice thing to take into the beginning of my legal career.”

Her public interest work has similarly covered a range of issues: She has volunteered at a rape crisis center and a period equity nonprofit, and after college in North Carolina, she worked for a family violence prevention agency finding housing for domestic violence survivors. She considered a social work degree.

 “I was confident about wanting to do public interest before I was confident about wanting to be a lawyer,” she says. But the public interest students Hassel met while visiting Columbia Law inspired her, as did the chance to live in a new city. She spent the summer before entering law school hiking and car-camping all over the country. Her plans to kayak on the Hudson River haven’t quite materialized, but “I walk in Central Park a lot,” she says. “Which is not quite the same as the Rockies, but it’s nice to get outside.” 

At Columbia, where she is a Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellow, Hassel undertook legal research on tenants’ rights issues as an intern for the Goddard Riverside Law Project, and after her 1L year, she interned for the Fair Housing Justice Center, working on housing discrimination investigations and policy advocacy. For Professor Kate Andrias, Patricia D. and R. Paul Yetter Professor of Law, she has been a research assistant on labor law—“that’s a whole other can of legal worms that I would very much like to open at some point in my career”—and this summer, she will work on anti-discrimination issues at Relman Colfax, a Washington, D.C., civil rights law firm. Like many public interest lawyers, she expects to have a variety of jobs.  

 “Especially for my early career, I see it as a priority to just keep learning and being exposed to different things,” Hassel says. “There are so many little pathways you can go on to learn about things in the law. That is exciting to me, and I like to hear how they fit together.”

But one thing that is settled is the wisdom of her choice to pursue legal training. 

“Law school I have loved,” she says. “I’ve found the thing that I really like to do, which is a great feeling.”