Graduating Legal Historian Also Helped Her Peers in the Present
Graduation is an opportunity to consider the past, present and future.
Katharine Janes ’21 has been a student leader mindful of all three throughout her time at the University of Virginia School of Law. A dual-degree candidate who graduates May 23, Janes has pursued her budding interest in history through the J.D.-M.A. program — while also being of service to her peers in real time as president of the Student Bar Association.
She earned her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Notre Dame. Her focus on legal history is more recent, and rooted in finding ways to be a better advocate for others.
The dual degree “has been such a formative part of my legal education, as it has allowed me to simultaneously explore my academic and historical interests in juvenile justice while also informing my advocacy in public service today,” Janes said.
Among her numerous involvements, in addition to being SBA president, Janes also served as the online development editor of the Virginia Law Review, a member of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, co-director of the Speak Up Project, a fellow in the Program in Law and Public Service, a member of the Community Fellows Program, a member of the Raven Society (the oldest and most prestigious honorary society at UVA), a Peer Advisor, co-vocal director for the Libel Show and singer for a law student band, “The Gunners.”
For the SBA, she also served as a member of the First Year Council and as executive secretary.
But her history of leadership and community involvement started well before she came to UVA. She is an associate board member of the Joyce Ivy Foundation, which promotes higher education for women in the Midwest, and was a governor-appointed board member of the Michigan Community Service Commission.
Just prior to law school, Janes volunteered for nine months at the Thomas N. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center in South Bend, Indiana. In addition to interning with the local public defender, she served as a physical activities instructor at the youth facility.
“I would go in twice a week and hang out with the young women in detention,” Janes said. “In many ways, while the facility is called a justice center, it could more aptly described as a youth jail. And, with discouraging frequency, the girls with whom I worked would be transferred to the adult department of corrections to serve additional time.”
As a way of informing her advocacy and community service, Janes began to question how juvenile justice reached its modern form. The question resulted in her thesis, “Abe Fortas and Juvenile Justice: The Revolution Secured in In re Gault.”
In re Gault is the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized 14th Amendment procedural due process rights for juveniles. Justice Abe Fortas wrote the majority opinion. The case, decided in 1967, involved a teenager’s prank call, which Fortas described as “of the irritatingly offensive adolescent sex variety.” For his alleged involvement in the prank, defendant Gerald Gault received a disposition of up to six years of confinement — until the Supreme Court reversed the state court ruling.
“My thesis is about Abe Fortas himself — why he cared about juvenile justice and why the majority of the court agreed with his perspective,” she said.
The case constitutionalized procedure for juvenile justice. She said the paper also asks, but doesn’t attempt to answer, “Is this the revolution we should have wanted?”
Her mentor on the project was Professor Richard Bonnie ’69, who has studied youth well-being in the criminal justice system, but she more broadly received support from Professors Charles Barzun ’05, the program’s Law School adviser, and Cynthia Nicoletti, as well as Professor Brian Balogh in the Corcoran Department of History.
During law school, she also helped others with their scholarly work, serving as a research assistant both to Bonnie and Dean Risa Goluboff, herself a legal historian.
When she applied to law school, Janes hadn’t even considered the possibility of earning a simultaneous second degree — which she noted is at no additional cost, as the M.A. can be obtained during the three years required to earn a J.D. — until Barzun mentioned the idea when welcoming her as a Karsh-Dillard Scholar.
She liked the idea that she could combine her interests. Once she embarked upon the dual track, she enjoyed that her classes were small, with room to discuss and explore. And faculty provided ample feedback and support throughout the program.
Janes said she’s glad she made the decision: “I encourage anyone interested in the program — both current and prospective students — to seriously consider applying. It has been a highlight of my time at UVA, and I would recommend it to anyone.”
Even before formally presenting her thesis for faculty review last week, Janes gave a talk on her paper for the Graduate History Forum, hosted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She also has written an article with J.D.-M.A. classmate Aiden Coleman, “Caught on Tape: Establishing the Right of Third-Party Bystanders To Secretly Record The Police,” which is slated to be published in the Virginia Law Review Online.
Barzun said he was impressed that Janes is not only a good legal scholar, but that she could do so many other things so well — simultaneously.
“She just radiates an energy, cheerfulness and curiosity that is contagious,” he said. “No doubt that’s why she was a shoe-in to be SBA president. In that way, she is a natural leader.”
In the spring of last year, she took office amid the pandemic’s initial shakeup. Over the course of her term, she made life smoother for her peers in the student body.
In coordination with outgoing president Jasmine Lee ’20, Janes helped connect her fellow students with health and financial resources, and student-led mutual assistance; initiated conversations on grading policies and student organization functioning; and received clarifications from the school on where students should live, what teaching experiences would look like, how course materials could be accessed or recovered, and how to best communicate with professors moving forward.
She continued to serve as a strong advocate for her fellow students during the current school year’s hybrid learning approach, which offers courses both in person and online. Throughout her term, she regularly met and communicated with Dean Goluboff and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Sarah Davies ’91 to convey students’ needs and concerns.
“Katharine’s approach to all things is to ask where she can help, and then she jumps into whatever is needed,” Davies said. “She manages difficult conversations with care and grace, and always with an eye toward improving understanding and promoting community. We have been lucky to have her as a leading voice among students for the past three years, and I am confident she has amazing things in her future.”
Janes furthered her interests in justice, youth advocacy and service to communities during her summer breaks from the Law School.
During her first-year summer, she interned in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division's Office of the Assistant Attorney General. During her second, she served as a Katherine and David deWilde ’67 Public Interest Fellow working for the Boston-based Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and also for the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.
After graduation, she’ll clerk for Judge Robert Sack on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.