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Event Planning Tips for Federalist Society Student Chapters

(though probably adaptable to many other groups):

  1. Debates seem to get more of a turnout than lectures.

  2. If you can't set up a head-to-head debate, for instance because local professors (see below) aren't confident that they'll entirely disagree with the visitor), set up a two-person panel, or a talk-plus-commentary.

  3. Events that involve a local professor — a debate, a panel, or even the professor's just introducing a guest speaker — will probably get more of a turnout, because it will bring in the professor's local fans.

  4. Publicize, publicize, publicize, using all the tools at your disposal — e-mail, flyers in mailboxes, postings on bulletin boards, postings on class chalkboards, if your school allows that, and whatever else you can think of.

  5. For topics, the usual sexy ones are good: affirmative action, gun control, abortion, church-state separation, campaign finance, and the like. Other topics can work as well, especially if you can find a well-known visitor who wants to talk about the things he likes. But generally speaking the old standards work well. Even if you feel that not a lot of views are going to be flipped on these topics, sometimes you can succeed just by moving people from unreflective support for the liberal conventional wisdom to a more agnostic position.

  6. If you want to bring in a relatively prominent speaker from out of town, offer to coordinate with other chapters in your city, so that the speaker can — if he wants to — give several talks on one trip. This may substantially increase the chances that the speaker will want to take the considerable time and effort that modern airplane travel requires.

  7. Provide lunch — the better, the better. [UPDATE: I originally forgot this one, even though it's in some ways the best way of boosting turnout; thanks to the commenters for reminding me.]

These are of course all guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. For instance, I've generally preferred to talk about slippery slopes, never with a debater (it's not a subject that lends itself well to head-to-head debates) and often without even a local commentator, and that's generally worked out quite well. But I think that most of the time, those guidelines will prove helpful.

Juan Inukshuk (mail):
7. Provide lunch.

No seriously, buying a few pizzas will increase turnout an insanely high degree.
6.1.2009 7:23pm
Ben P:

7. Provide lunch.


As a relatively recent law school grad and the head of a student organization, this is the golden rule of any daytime student event.

Without food even a relatively well known legal speaker will often have a disappointing turnout. With food, many students will show up.
6.1.2009 7:34pm
Malvolio:
No seriously, buying a few pizzas will increase turnout an insanely high degree.
And then hit everyone up for a few bucks to pay for the pizza. Most people will shell out.
6.1.2009 7:35pm
Jer:
The central premise of the Federalist Society is "Conservative legal education, one pizza at a time."

That being said: if you are hoping to sway minds, offer (and advertise) a vegan option at your larger debates. You'll get a larger and more diverse crowd.
6.1.2009 8:40pm
Handsome Dan:
Have the chapter president, or other board member, kick off the event by first introducing the Federalist Society by reciting its mission statement. Clarifying that it is a conservative/libertarian, and not Republican, organization seems to me to have opened up quite a few minds at our events. Ideological partisanship is different than political partisanship.
6.1.2009 8:49pm
Ventrue Capital (mail) (www):
2. If you can't set up a head-to-head debate, for instance because local professors (see below) aren't confident that they'll entirely disagree with the visitor), set up a two-person panel, or a talk-plus-commentary.
I'm sure that almost any university will have plenty of Politically Correct local professors who will vehemently disagree with any Federalist society member.

Why not invite one (or more) of them to be on the panel/debate?

My personal preference would be for a panel/debate to include at least one of each reputable ideology: liberal, conservative, and libertarian.
6.1.2009 9:23pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

The central premise of the Federalist Society is "Conservative legal education, one pizza at a time."


I think you guys had better watch this stereotyping of Italian-Americans: Adam Ciongoli's dad will come after you.
6.1.2009 9:26pm
Sebastian the Ibis (mail):
+1 on the Pizza.

And get good speakers. Hosting Alan Gura (Heller), Scott Bullock (Kelo), Gen. Crosbie Saint (Supreme Allied Commander Europe during the Fall of the USSR), Sen. Arlen Specter, Eugene Kontorovich and others was the high point of Law School for me.

You will remember it forever.
6.1.2009 10:50pm
The Cabbage (mail):
I took over an all-but-defunct chapter, and I can confirm that the good Professor has offered some sound advice. A few more thoughts for Fed-Soc officers out there.

1) Shell out for the good stuff. The chapter I ran this year had no issues with turnout, even for the one event I basically forgot to promote, because we had a reputation as "The group who always has lasagna".

2) Re: advertising and promotions. One trick that worked really well was to approach a few professors that had an interest in the subject, and get them to help promote. For my Con law events, I had one of the Con Law professors join the debate, and I gave all the Con Law professors reminders to mention the debate and Lasagna to their classes.

3) Find out who in the Society has classes during the few hours before the event. Have this person announce that "there is free lunch in room 123 in 10 minutes".

4) If there is an attractive professor, invite them to participate in the debates. Seriously, works like a charm.
6.1.2009 10:54pm
Former Fed-Soc President (mail):
As a former Fed-Soc President, I agree with most of what Professor Volokh says. I do, however, disagree on topics to choose. Instead, these are my recommendations for choosing speakers and topics.

My criteria for choosing topics and speakers
1) Get the Best Speakers
a. Interesting, Dynamic and Credible
b. Likeable - It makes their argument more likeable
c. Experts -- if they have impressive credentials, more people will come
d. Brilliant -- bad arguments reflect poorly on the Federalist Society
2)Pick A Great Topic -- some topics also get you extra $$
a. cross-ideological support and/or
b. argues in favor of individual liberty (i.e. David vs. Goliath) helps demonstrates liberals don't have a monopoly on liberty and that we care about the little guy too.
c. (optional) novel - bolsters (c) by showing there are individual rights that liberals don't think/care about.
d. or unexpected topics/alliances -- it breaks down stereotypes and creates alliances

The Federalist Society seeks to persuade people on the issues of federalism, separation of powers, rule of law, and limited government. The best way to accomplish this, in my humble opinion, is to pick topics that highlight these principles and that also are favored by people across political spectrums. For example, the Overfederalization of Crime appeals to conservatives because it's an example of federalism; liberals because they don't like the results (e.g marijuana prosecutions; double jeopardy concerns); and libertarians for all the above. The Confrontation Clause is great because it shows how orginalism can protect criminal defendants, thus it appeals to both conservatives/libertarians for its adherence to the text and to liberals for being pro-defense

Examples: Eminent Domain; Regulatory Takings; Bootleggers and Baptists: Why Regulation Goes Wrong; Economic Liberties; Civil Asset Forfeiture Laws; The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage; Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal; Commercial Speech; and School Choice.

I stuck to the above and never had problems with attendence.
6.1.2009 10:57pm
Randy R. (mail):
Good ideas, all. But you want to promote your organization as much as possible and have it grow.

At the end of the event, ask students if they found it enjoyable, and whether they would be interested in more events of this kind. Tell them you are open to their ideas for future topics. Then ask them if they would like to join. Have brochures out for the taking, and make sure the website is visible everywhere.

And please, don't have all the officers dress in coat and tie. That screams "College Republican." Jeans are, despite George Will's rant, perfectly okay attire on the campus.
6.1.2009 11:20pm
Ben S. (mail):

Have the chapter president, or other board member, kick off the event by first introducing the Federalist Society by reciting its mission statement. Clarifying that it is a conservative/libertarian, and not Republican, organization seems to me to have opened up quite a few minds at our events. Ideological partisanship is different than political partisanship.


I agree completely. The conservative legal philosophy is far easier for people to accept than the Republican platform. I will never forget when my girlfriend of several years, and a die-hard liberal when I met her, said, "I am really starting to think you're right," after a recent discussion on conservative jurisprudence.

I know of many young attorneys, myself included, who intentionally refer to themselves as "conservative" rather than Republican, and who are conservative politically largely because of their conservative legal philosophy.
6.1.2009 11:45pm
dmv (www):

I will never forget when my girlfriend of several years, and a die-hard liberal when I met her, said, "I am really starting to think you're right," after a recent discussion on conservative jurisprudence.

Ok, so, honestly, I don't mean this as a personal attack or anything, but that made me throw up a little in my mouth. As did this:

Even if you feel that not a lot of views are going to be flipped on these topics, sometimes you can succeed just by moving people from unreflective support for the liberal conventional wisdom to a more agnostic position.

I don't know what it is about those two things that rankled me, but they did. Maybe it's just because it's 1 am. Who knows.
6.2.2009 12:48am
the political is not the personal:
dmv, don't be so thin-skinned.
6.2.2009 1:45am
Jim at FSU (mail):
It's about bringing people in so you can expose them ideas they aren't getting from most of the professors.

So long as you keep producing interesting and well-catered events, people will keep showing up, even if they disagree with you. Your job is to "train" the student body to reflexively salivate at the mention of federalist society events.

Although there are certainly people that cannot be reached, you'd be surprised how many people don't yet have strongly formed opinions on most subjects. Just being exposed to to a libertarian or conservative viewpoint can be enough to send send students down new intellectual paths.
6.2.2009 3:57am
Pender:

Even if you feel that not a lot of views are going to be flipped on these topics, sometimes you can succeed just by moving people from unreflective support for the liberal conventional wisdom to a more agnostic position.

And to think all of the fedsoc types at my school insisted that the Federalist Society was "non-partisan."
6.2.2009 12:28pm
Sebastian the Ibis (mail):
Also Make Flyers with Big Pictures on them. An 8 x 10 picture of a pistol, or James Bond gets attention.

If your topic cannot be summarized that simply it may be too complicated.
6.2.2009 12:31pm
NickM (mail) (www):
One easy but interesting program is to have a professor at your school who was a Supreme Court clerk talk about how Supreme Court review and decisionmaking works.
1Ls especially show up to things like this.

Nick
6.2.2009 2:32pm
David Friedman (mail) (www):
Looking at it from the standpoint of a speaker rather than a chapter, I don't much like debates--or even the compromise of my speaking and someone then providing a substantial commentary. The last time I was in such a situation, the commentary had nothing to do with what I had said, whether because the commenter didn't follow what I was saying or didn't have anything to say about it and wanted to talk about something else I don't know.

Debates can, of course, be interesting and even informative. But if I am actually trying to explain ideas, which is what I usually am doing in a Federalist Society talk, cutting my time in half and then putting me in a situation where a significant amount of that time is sent correcting misunderstandings by my opponent, or critiquing his ideas, makes it a lot harder.

It might be different if my typical talk were one side of some familiar ongoing dispute--Kelo, 2nd amendment, or the like. But it isn't. It's more likely to be the question of whether it makes sense to have both tort and criminal law doing the same job in different ways, or if we could manage better with a pure tort system, or on how a range of different societies have set up their legal systems, or on what economics has to do with law.
6.2.2009 10:37pm

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