Earlier this year, Michael P. Bellis (JD ’23) and Kathleen Naccarato (JD ’24), two Northwestern Pritzker School of Law students, won awards for submitting the best papers in their respective Law ...
Being a law student is challenging. Your days are full of lectures, your nights are full of studying, but for some students, one of the most crucial aspects are the student research papers. Many hope that the long hours put into structuring, writing and presenting their papers will culminate in a good grade. But the following three students not only impressed their professors, but were recognized by some of the legal world’s top organizations, and have published their work on a national scale.
Tommy Hoyt (JD ’21)
“The Syntax of a Sin Tax”
Tommy Hoyt was sitting in Professor Sarah Lawsky’s tax policy class when an idea struck. “We had to do a research paper on any tax-related topic of our choice,” he says. “I remembered living in Chicago in 2017 — if you were there too, you probably remember the same thing.”
In 2017, the Cook County implemented a tax on soda, driving the price of a $4 12-pack to nearly $6. After immense pushback from the public, local businesses, and the beverage industry, the Cook County Board of Commissioners repealed the controversial penny-per-ounce soda tax by fall of that same year. “I remember going into 7-Eleven, and there was a Post-it Note on the fridge about what’s taxed and what’s not. It kept changing, and there were all these TV ads — so I remember living through that chaotic chapter and thinking, ‘Wow, what a big failure in implementing a tax.’” As Hoyt began digging into the history of soda taxes throughout the country, he noticed that not all municipalities have failed in the way Chicago did. “There are some jurisdictions where they’ve been able to pass one,” he says. “And despite facing the same anti-tax forces that we saw in Cook County, they’ve been able to sustain the tax.” That’s when his paper, “The Syntax of a Sin Tax: Lessons on How to Craft a Sweetened Beverage Tax,” came into fruition.
Around the same time that Chicago tried implementing its soda tax, Philadelphia was successful in passing theirs. But why? “They faced all the same opposition from the beverage industry, from lobbyists, from lawsuits, from TV ads…but the tactics from the handbook that defeated the tax in Cook County did not work to defeat the tax in Philadelphia,” Hoyt says. “And so I wondered what’s different here? Why does this work in one place politically and not another? Is it that Chicago and Philadelphia are so different? Or is it that the taxes themselves are structured differently in a way that’s meaningful?”
“I remember going into 7-Eleven, and there was a Post-it Note on the fridge about what’s taxed and what’s not. It kept changing, and there were all these TV ads — so I remember living through that chaotic chapter and thinking, ‘Wow, what a big failure in implementing a tax.’”Tommy Hoyt (JD ’21)
Community support was the crucial factor for Philadelphia, according to Hoyt. “Getting this tax to be successful is really about getting support from the communities that are most impacted by the tax,” he says. “In Philadelphia, all of the Black members of the city council endorsed the tax. And so did the local chapter of the NAACP, because all the tax dollars were earmarked toward community development, toward building preschools and libraries in majority Black communities that were going to shoulder the heaviest burden of paying this tax.”
The same was not true in Chicago. “In Cook County, on the other hand, there was no outreach to the Black community to build support for the tax,” Hoyt says. “The tax dollars were not earmarked toward any projects that are especially important to the community. The tax dollars were just going to fill the deficit hole of Cook County, which is not a cause that anyone really feels strongly about.”
Hoyt’s curiosity gained him one of the highest honors in the tax world. His paper won 3rd place in the 2020 Tannenwald Writing Competition, sponsored by the Theodore Tannenwald, Jr. Foundation for Excellence in Tax Scholarship. It’s a competition that sees over 600 submissions from students around the country. “It’s really flattering and a huge honor,” he says. “I had no expectation of getting picked, and so it was a really pleasant surprise to get this award and to be recognized in this way.” Hoyt says that Lawsky, professor of law and Associate Dean of Academic Programs, was critical in inspiring and refining his paper. “She gave me broad advice on what areas I should go deeper in and how to structure the paper overall,” he says. “She was a huge help in making sure that I wrote a cohesive body of tax scholarship.”
“It’s always great when students are recognized for their excellent work,” says Lawsky. “It’s a really interesting paper that folks would benefit from reading. It has the advantage of being grounded in something that is specific and practical, but also potentially has larger implications.”
Jennifer Aronsohn (JD ’21)
“Community Claim of Right”
Jennifer Aronsohn’s interest in local government is longstanding — she has a BS in urban planning and policy analysis from Indiana University Bloomington. So, in 2019, when she first started her independent study, she decided to focus on city-owned vacant lots and the social and economic costs they pose to cities. Her resulting article, “Community Claim of Right,” looked at “the legal problems that residents are facing when they’re using these spaces,” she says. In her article, she proposes a solution to the harsh legal problems posed by these lots, in which certain ownership rights can emerge from stewardship of publicly owned property.
“I was drawn to this particular issue because I can see the disparity across the city regarding how land is treated. It was important for me to address issues that are often not talked about,” she says. “Even just utilizing these really common property concepts of easements and covenants and applying them in creative ways that can actually service land and help people. The law takes a lot, but it could also return quite a bit as well.”
“It’s so amazing to think that officials in other parts of the nation might pick this up and apply the same concepts to their own cities.”Jennifer Aronsohn (JD ’21)
Although the idea came easily to her, Aronsohn says the hardest part of writing the paper was narrowing down her grandiose ideas into something tangible. “When I walk outside, I look at a space and I think, ‘How did the law create it? What is the law doing to change it?’” she says. “I had so many different ideas, so I had to focus on the process of whittling down these huge ideas into something that’s narrow enough for me to tackle.”
The resulting article earned Aronsohn the first-place prize in the 37th Annual Smith-Babcock-Williams Student Writing Competition — sponsored by the American Planning Association Planning and Law Division. The national competition not only recognized her work, but the article was published this past spring in The Urban Lawyer, a peer-review journal of the American Bar Association. “It’s fantastic to be recognized because this was the culmination of over six months actively thinking about it and writing,” Aronsohn says. “It’s also great because it’s interdisciplinary, so there are planners who are reading this. It’s so amazing to think that officials in other parts of the nation might pick this up and apply the same concepts to their own cities.”
When it came to structuring the hours of research and 100-page ordinances Aronsohn accumulated, she says the assistance of Nadav Shoked, professor of law and her faculty advisor on the paper, was invaluable. “He was indispensable to my development of this piece,” she says. “He was very generous with his time, and gave insightful comments that helped me frame my argument. The depth and breadth of his knowledge helped me a lot.”
“I’ve been working with Jenny on [various projects] in classes for over two years now,” Shoked says. “What’s interesting about her process in particular is that she comes up with an endless amount of ideas and then she does a lot of research on each and every one of them.” She comes prepared like a lawyer, he says. “It’s very impressive when a student gets to win an award, have their paper published, and have a talk about it with the journal…it’s exceptionally impressive.”
As Aronsohn moves towards graduation, she wants to continue to investigate the relationship between the law and living spaces. “I’m interested in how the law shapes our built environment, and in turn how the law evolves over time in response to that environment. There are many ordinary things around us, such as vacant properties, parks, and public signs, that most people overlook; I stop to question it,” she says. “Oftentimes answers exist, but when they don’t, Northwestern Pritzker Law has given me the tools to reason through it. After graduation, I’ll work on some of these issues as I start in real estate law, and I will also continue writing scholarship. Thankfully, I have developed strong relationships with a number of my professors at Northwestern who will continue to advise me.”
Lauren Peterson (JD ’21)
“Future of Governance in Space”
Lauren Peterson has been fascinated with outer space since she was a kid. Her interest in space law grew as she navigated her way through law school, but she never could have imagined this passion would lead her to publish a book.
Peterson joined the Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property in August 2019, and the journal required all student members to write a note. Peterson’s topic came easily to her. “I decided to write about intellectual property law in space, and the really fun thought experiments you can get into, because intellectual property law is inherently geographical, but once you get up into space, geographic borders don’t really mean anything,” she says. “I found myself continuously running into the word count limit, because there was so much more I wanted to say about space law in general, and about the future of humanity in space, but I had to keep narrowing it down.”
The combination of an abundance of information and giddy excitement sparked an idea. “I connected with a professor at Georgetown, Professor Eric Koester, who asked me if I was interested in taking this topic, expanding on it, and writing a book,” she says. “Writing a book has always been on my bucket list, but I had no idea it was something I would be capable of so early, and during my law school career.”
Koester is the founder of the Creator Institute, an intensive program for individuals “who want to discover their purpose and demonstrate their expertise,” according to the website. The networking channel allows creatives to connect with mentors to produce literary works and other forms of media. “Through that program, I took what was a paper on IP, and a general love and passion for space law, and I turned it into a book,” says Peterson.
Peterson started an Indiegogo campaign, exceeding her initial goal of $5,000 with a total of $6,577 and 114 backers. Soon her book, Future of Governance in Space was real. It was published in paperback and eBook in April 2020, and, because of the extra funding, there will be a hardcover addition available later this fall.
In addition to the guidance from Koester, Peterson credits Ronald Allen, John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law, with helping encourage her project. “He was one of the first people to encourage me to dig deeper,” she says. “He understood that the JTIP note was rather limiting, in terms of subject matter, but also in terms of length. At the end of that note, I very briefly introduce the idea of a space court, some sort of intergalactic court that would have jurisdiction over outer space activities, whether they be on the ground or in space. He was the person who said, ‘Wow, this is a really interesting idea. I think you should explore it further.’”
“Lauren was a pleasure to work with on her paper,” says Allen, noting her combination of creativity and diligence. “One usually gets one or the other, but not both. She had an interesting idea and at the same time was willing to work hard to dig into it in depth.”
“Every time you open your phone to use Google Maps to go to the nearest Starbucks, you’re using space law. Those are satellites. We are only on the precipice of this space renaissance — in regards to technology, but also to law and policy.”Lauren Peterson (JD ’21)
Adapting a student assignment into a full book is no easy feat. Peterson says thorough research was the key to her success. “Writing a law school paper is so different than writing a book. With a book, there’s a narrative,” she says. “You want to include personal stories. You want to include opinions, along with interviews, and expert opinions. So I found that as much research as I did for the very law-specific paper, I did so much more for this book. I was an absolute sponge. I was buying every space law textbook that there is on Amazon. And attending every webinar that I could, and transcribing podcast interviews so that I could incorporate that sort of content. All of a sudden I had absorbed so much information that it was spilling out into regular conversations.”
The shining moment for Peterson has been attending webinars with experts she admires, and actually interacting with the field’s foremost experts. “Because the space law world is so small and interconnected, I’ve interviewed a variety of different people in this field of study,” she says. “It’s so cool to meet people with a similar passion.”
Whether someone is a space law expert or simply loves reading about space, Peterson hopes everyone can find something meaningful in her book. “I want people to understand that their everyday lives are absolutely impacted by space law. Every time you use Google Maps to find the nearest Starbucks, you’re using space law. Those are satellites. We are only on the precipice — the cusp — of this space renaissance in regards to technology, but also to law and policy. I just want folks to get ready.”
Last week, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law welcomed incoming students to the Law School with a week of campus-wide events to celebrate the start of the 2023-24 academic year.
On Friday, May 12, 643 graduates from 35 places around the globe joined faculty, family, and friends for the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s 2023 convocation ceremony at the Chicago Theatre.