LSU law students breaking new ground through the airwaves with ‘The Legal Ease’ podcast

Jack Zeringue, left, and Cam Miller host an episode of “The Legal Ease,” a podcast created and operated by students from the LSU Law Center’s Louisiana Law Review. While podcasts have become wildly popular in other subjects, “The Legal Ease” is one of only a few operated by a law review journal, joining the likes of UCLA, Yale, Northwestern and Fordham. The podcast’s guests and hosts discuss legal issues and how they relate to Louisiana, as well as pertinent public affairs matters. Photography by Don Kadair

On a recent Monday morning at the LSU Law Center, third-year law students Jack Zeringue and Cam Miller are putting together the latest episode of “The Legal Ease,” the Louisiana Law Review podcast. They’re about to have an academic discussion about a technical legal issue, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun.

Their guest is Chris Ortte, a fellow student and a regular contributor to the podcast. He’s from Lafayette, but he doesn’t speak with a noticeable Cajun accent until they start recording and he adopts his “Bayou Barrister” persona. As the name suggests, the “Bayou Barrister” segment highlights Louisiana-specific legal quirks.

Ortte opens with a Boudreaux and Thibodeaux joke—the one about Thibodeaux forgetting his glasses at a truck stop while on a road trip to the beach—before launching into a brief explanation of how the state civil code treats “alluvion,” soil added naturally over time on the bank of a river or stream. Legally, alluvion belongs to the owner of the bank, but the owner must leave public the portion of the bank required for public use.

“So Boudreaux and Thibodeaux could pull their pirogue up there,” Miller notes.

“They could do that, and they could fish,” Ortte responds.

“The Legal Ease” is in its second season. Zeringue and Miller say they want the show to be informative and entertaining for law students, academics and legal practitioners, while also shedding light upon legal topics in the news that interest the general public.

A podcast is basically an internet radio show that can be downloaded on demand and listened to at any time, usually on a smartphone or tablet. A 2016 survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that 21% of Americans age 12 and up had listened to at least one podcast during the previous month. No matter what you’re into—movies, sports, true crime, knitting—there’s probably at least one podcast out there about it, and likely several.

The LSU Law Center’s Louisiana Law Review, a student-edited journal of legal scholarship, is one of just a handful of law reviews across the country with a podcast. Others include journals based at UCLA, Yale, Northwestern and Fordham. LSU’s first episode went live on Sept. 16, 2015, making Louisiana Law Review one of the earliest adopters, although Yale, at least, beat them to the punch the previous April.

LSU Law Center graduate Alex Robertson suggested starting a podcast as part of his pitch to be the law review’s online editor for the 2015-2016 school year. Robertson, now an attorney with Irwin, Fritchie, Urquhart & Moore in New Orleans, is a fan of the medium, and he helped create podcasts as part his job with a web design firm before entering law school.

Robertson figured people who don’t have the time or motivation to read the law review’s lengthy, intensely researched articles might find a podcast more convenient and accessible. Bill Corbett, who was the law center’s interim dean at the time, approved an $800 budget for equipment.

“I put together a podcast team,” Robertson says. “We basically had a month from the time we purchased our equipment to put our first show up. It was literally a full-time job to get that done.”

Motivating busy law review members to take on extra work isn’t easy. Robertson created titles for his volunteers, giving them an extra line on their resume, and instituted an “eat what you kill” policy: If you land a big-name guest, you get to interview them.

Doing interviews by phone when necessary helps with scheduling. Former Louisiana Supreme Court justice and current federal judge James Dennis participated in the 2015-2016 season, as did federal judges Lee Rosenthal and Elizabeth Foote, and numerous local attorneys and professors.

This first episode with the 2016-2017 law review podcast team introduced Thomas Galligan, the LSU Law Center’s new dean, to listeners. Galligan says the hosts strike a nice balance between discussions that appeal mainly to legal professionals, such as the federal rules of civil procedure, and newsy topics of interest to the broader public, such as medical marijuana, the legality of red-light cameras and issues related to last year’s flood.

“We have to adapt to changes in society,” Galligan says. “The podcast is a perfect way to use a new medium to participate in the dialogue about legal issues and the development of legal scholarship. It fits right into the mission of the law review.”

The podcast is available on SoundCloud and iTunes. People in 50 countries have listened thus far, Zeringue and Miller say, although most listeners are local.

“We’ve tried to talk about legal events that people in the community would care about,” says Zeringue, the law review’s online editor and executive producer of the podcast. “Younger attorneys have totally embraced it.

The podcast comes out seven times per school year, including once in the summer and three times each semester. “The Bayou Barrister” is one of three student-driven recurring segments. “C’mon Judge” focuses on unusual or puzzling behavior by judges. The name is a play on “C’mon Man,” ESPN Monday Night Football’s roundup of embarrassing non-highlights. In “Street Law,” a “field correspondent” (who is actually sitting in the classroom where “The Legal Ease” is recorded) gives a take on current events.

“The first take just shows us the direction we’re going in, and it gets refined and cleaned up from there,” Zeringue says of recording the recurring segments. “We can splice takes together fairly easily. We’ve gotten better about figuring out how to do that. In the past, we would re-take the whole thing.”

Miller says they can now record an episode in about two or three hours, whereas their first one took twice that long. They’ve gotten so much better at running the equipment and hosting and editing segments, it’s a shame Zeringue and Miller only have one more law review podcast left to record, Zeringue says.

After graduating this year, Miller is set to join Phelps Dunbar’s business practice group in Baton Rouge, while Zeringue will work on mergers and acquisitions with Sidley Austin in Dallas. But the podcast is now included in the law review’s bylaws, so there will be more episodes when next year’s staff takes over.

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