A (Brief) History of the Donald Nystrom Best Brief Award

When Donald Nystrom, ’00, joined Law Review as a 2L in 1998, the publication needed numbers. Student interest was stagnant, particularly when it came to the write-on process at the end of the academic year. 

“It seemed like a big chore – to write the paper at the end of your first year. You’re exhausted and suddenly you’ve got to pop out another big paper. So the Law Review was really struggling to get attention,” Nystrom said. 

As a 2L editor (a rare feat), Nystrom came up with a plan. He approached the editorial board with an idea to encourage more students to join: a Law Review Best Brief Award with a cash prize. The plan was to work with Advocacy course instructors who would select one of their students’ final briefs to submit for award consideration. Law Review would then narrow it down to the top three winning briefs. 

The competition provided students with additional motivation to complete their final Advocacy brief, and it generated buzz for Law Review. It was a runaway success for the journal, bringing in dozens of more applicants for Law Review in just that first year alone. 

After Nystrom graduated in 2000, he continued the award at MSU Law, supporting it with an annual gift, and the law school later honored his dedication by naming it after him: The Donald Nystrom Best Brief Award.  

Joshua Hoebeke, ’21, received the top prize for the Donald Nystrom Best Brief Award in 2019. He described writing the brief as a reflective moment as a 1L, testing the knowledge and skills he had learned throughout his first year. 

“In August, we all came to law school barely knowing what to expect, so it was pretty awesome to have a tangible way to see how far we've come. Plus, the Advocacy courses demand a lot of time and energy, so having something to use as a motivator is really helpful,” Hoebeke said. “It was a great way to end the first year of law school.” 

Even as the legal profession evolves, Nystrom sees today's law grads benefiting from those same practical skills. “Over time the field of law has turned into a written, paper practice, and that just highlights the importance of writing skills and attention to detail. That is the training from Law Review,” he explained. 

And Nystrom’s plan to inspire talented 1Ls to take on the additional responsibilities and career-launching opportunity of journal membership? More than twenty years later, it’s still paying off. 

2019’s Best Brief Award winner Hoebeke used his freshly-honed writing skills to submit his application for Law Review.