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Law Review 101

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Though it began as the brainchild of an elite group of Harvard men, law review is now a standard component of nearly every quality law program in the country. It can add several hours to your weekly workload, but many say it's a must for ambitious law students. Here's why.


Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did it. So did Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. While it's no guarantee of fame and fortune, it certainly doesn't hurt. "Everyone should do law review," says Brian McDonald, managing editor of UC Berkeley's prestigious California Law Review. "There is no one type of person that fits the law review mold."




Working on law review is a great way to hone your writing, editing, and analytical skills, and an excellent addition to your resumé. Many employers see law review as a sign that you have what it takes to make it in their firm. And while it retains an aura of exclusivity, there are now enough journals on enough subjects that just about any student who wants to do law review can-as long as he or she is smart, hardworking, detail-oriented, and a skilled writer.


What is Law Review?

Simply put, a law review is a student-run monthly or quarterly academic journal that publishes articles by law professors, law students, judges, and attorneys. While some schools have just one or two, several institutions have as many as a dozen. At many schools, there are two tiers of journals: those that are more prestigious and competitive (often bearing the name of the school) and several others that are subject-specific or narrower in scope. Thus, in addition to the primary ones, such as the Harvard Law Review, the California Law Review, and the Yale Law Journal, there are a number of journals dealing with such varied issues as business law, family law, ethics, intellectual property, and even forensics. Examples of these include the Stanford Technology Law Review, The Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, and the Michigan Journal of Race & Law Online.


Students at certain schools can also compete to work on Bluebook. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is the definitive sourcebook for citing legal documents and cases, and is put out by Harvard in conjunction with Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. The editors of Bluebook work together to ensure that approved citation techniques are clear and up-to-date.


How Did Law Review Begin?

Law review was born in 1887, when a group of Harvard students created a journal that would combine student notes on important cases of the day with articles by Harvard faculty and other prominent members of the Bar. The idea was to showcase the activities of students and faculty at Harvard Law School, while simultaneously producing a periodical that would be of general interest to anyone practicing law.


The journal was called Harvard Law Review, and it succeeded so well that there are now hundreds of law reviews published by schools across the U.S. Indeed, the numbers grow bigger-and grow faster-all the time. There were seven student-run law reviews in 1900. The number exceeded 100 during the 1960s. By 1990, there were more than 300, and today students run well over 400 school-affiliated law reviews and related journals.


What Kinds of Articles Are Published?

Law reviews tend to follow the format laid out by the Harvard Law Review more than a hundred years ago. The Duke Law Journal, for example, devotes about a third of each issue to student notes dealing with current legal issues, while the rest is filled with articles by law professors and practicing lawyers.


Topics vary widely, but aim always to be current and cutting-edge. In recent years, the New York University Law Review has published articles on everything from constitutional law, criminal law, and civil procedure to critical theory, feminist theory, legal education, and legal history. The Cornell Law Review has covered similarly wide territory, addressing subjects as diverse as capital punishment, domestic violence, and the shifting status of intellectual property in the information age.


More specialized journals deal with a smaller range of topics. Michigan Journal of Gender & Law has covered Israeli sexual harassment law, marriage for same-sex couples, the rights of transgendered prisoners, and the ethical dilemmas raised by sexual reassignment surgery in gender-ambiguous infants.


Law reviews are the main scene of scholarly publishing in legal studies, and as such they are also a major component of legal education. "The best thing about the work is the exposure to cutting-edge issues," says Berkeley's McDonald. "As a top-10 law review, CLR receives submissions from the nation's best authors. We evaluate and publish some of the most interesting scholarship available." Even better, most law reviews make it possible for you to present your own views right alongside those of more senior, established colleagues. Students frequently write at least one case note while working on a journal, and some even produce full-fledged articles.


Tip: For a ranked list of the top 50 general law reviews based on frequency of citation, see http://stu.findlaw.com/journals/lawreviews.html. For a comprehensive list of law reviews, many of them full-text, see http://stu.findlaw.com/journals/.


Why Do Law Review?

Two words say it all: experience and prestige. As Brian Turetsky, editor of the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, observes, "Any student who wants to research, write, and improve editing and bluebooking skills should consider writing onto a journal. It also happens to be one of the few activities that will remain on your resumé throughout your life. And it's a great way to meet and work with a bunch of people you may not have met yet, especially if you're at a large law school."


In addition to writing case notes and book reviews, students vet submissions, check facts and citations, work with authors to revise and shape accepted pieces, and edit articles to bring them into conformity with Bluebook citation standards. As many law review editors will tell you, there is nothing like dealing with deadlines and difficult authors to polish up your professional persona.


Jeanine Harvey, publication co-manager of Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, explains that law review often "serves as a screening tool for employers, particularly judges, who frankly have more important things to do with their time than sort through transcripts and law school grading policies to figure out where law students stand with respect to their peers."


Indeed, law review has become so synonymous with academic excellence that not doing it can send a message to employers that you are not a top candidate-even if you are. As Harvey explains, "some employers mistakenly view law review as the talisman of a successful lawyer, as if editing a law review perfects one's skills as a litigator, negotiator, or rainmaking partner."


Working on a journal also matters if you hope to enter academe after law school. According to the Michigan Journal of Race & Law's Guide for Aspiring Law Professors, landing a job as a professor means doing a lot of writing while in law school. As in other areas of the ivory tower, a strong publication record is crucial to achieving tenure-and candidates for the few academic jobs that open up each year must show that they are capable of producing such a record. Journal membership is one of the best and easiest ways to do so, since you can supplement your editorial work by publishing your own articles.


How Do You Make Law Review?

Most law reviews are edited by 2Ls and 3Ls who earn their way onto the journal's editorial staff at the end of their first year of law school. At some schools, invitations to work on law review are issued entirely on the basis of grades (generally the top 10 percent of the first-year class). At others, you can obtain membership by performing well in a writing competition known as a "write-on," regardless of your grades. Still others opt for a combination of these criteria: At the University of Michigan, for example, half of those who make Michigan Law Review do so solely on the basis of their write-ons, and others make it based on the write-on and their first-year grades.


Some law reviews have affirmative action policies, while others decide membership strictly on your academic and write-on performance. It all depends on what factors the members of an individual law review feel will generate the most talented, diverse group.


The California Law Review has a write-on competition, but also looks for qualifications that coursework and writing contests can't measure. "Many people think only the students with the highest grades should be on law review, but that is not how CLR views its recruiting process," says McDonald. "Our theory is that a student's performance in class has little or no relation to his or her ability to perform well on law review. It is simply a different world from academia. As such, there is room for all types of law students."


Your reputation among fellow students can thus play a subtle but definite role in yourchances of making law review: When evaluating prospective law review members, McDonald says he looks for a number of things that can't be gauged by grades or a writing sample, such as a sharp intellect, tenacity, and a strong work ethic.


Procedures are sometimes more relaxed at smaller, specialized law journals. For example, these reviews are more likely to welcome 1Ls onto their staffs. They are also often run in a comparatively freeform manner. Harvey points out that hers is "the only journal [at Michigan] that allows members to edit articles as early as their second semester in law school. I appreciated this opportunity, as well as the nonhierarchical structure of the editorial board."


Tip: Find out precisely how things work at your school. Many schools' Web sites include detailed information about making law review. What you don't learn from official sources, you can find out from your peers: Ask 2Ls and 3Ls about your school's various reviews to get the scoop on how to make the journal of your choice.




Harvard Law School.

    

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