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All About Law Reviews and Journals

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Journals (or law reviews) are student-run publications that are home for almost all non-judicial legal scholarship. They are also the biggest enemy and the best friend of law students. Journal work is the major extracurricular activity on almost every law school campus. Journals teach important legal skills and are undoubtedly prestigious. But they are not for everyone. This chapter will lay out the pros and cons of journals and then discuss the law review competition, which is the process you must undertake (usually at the end of your first year) to join most journals.


What Is Journal Work Like?

Quality-What Editors Do. If you pick up any issue of a law review, you'll probably find a couple of articles written by professors or scholars and perhaps a few shorter pieces by students. The process that leads to publication can be elaborate, requiring considerable time and effort from the journal's members. If you work on a journal, you may get a chance to perform any number of tasks. Journals must acquire articles and essays for publication, so you might be involved in soliciting and reviewing manuscripts. Journals must ensure that their articles are original and meaningful, so you might be involved in research or talking with professors about a proposed manuscript. Journals also tend to do a considerable amount of editing, so you would probably spend a good bit of time grappling with an article's thesis, improving its writing, or checking its citations for substantive and formal accuracy. Law journals also publish pieces written by students, so you might be allowed (or even required) to put your own pen to paper and become a published author. The nature of the work you do as a member of a law journal will vary from student to student and from journal to journal It all depends on the journal's structure and philosophy, the amount of work that needs to be done, and the number of journal members available to do it.

I spend as few as 10 or as many as MO hours per week on journal work, depending on where we stand on a given process. During the intensive portions of primary editing, the workload is particularly on us, and nothing can really be done to speed it up. Slogging through the tedium is the only way to get it done. We have very little control over our workload. -RICHARD MYERS, ARTICLES EDITOR, North Carolina Law Review

Law journals spend a lot of time and effort deciding what to publish. The process for selecting articles generally involves reading submitted manuscripts and evaluating their academic and scholastic worth. One of the greatest ironies of legal journalism is that law professors' ability to be published requires the consent of law students. Many editors on law reviews are drawn to the process of selecting pieces for publication. You might enjoy engaging in scholarly discussions about proposed articles and trying to nab the better articles before other journals can get to them. Or you might hate reading long articles, many of which are boring, poorly written, and ultimately rejected. On most law reviews, decisions about publication are made by a committee of members. On some journals, the article selection committee receives input from the journal's body of members. On other journals, the committee is self-sufficient and relatively small. At the University of Illinois Law Review, for instance, a four-person committee reviews all submitted articles.

For most members of law reviews, journal work is about editing. Editing may take different forms. On many journals, the editors engage the articles and essays on a very high substantive level. Editors might make suggestions for significant changes to the piece's overall structure or thesis. If a journal has a more deferential philosophy toward editing, there will be fewer opportunities for this kind of substantive input. Journals also tend to spend a good deal of time wrestling with an article's prose. Editors ensure, or try to ensure, that the language flows well, that rules of grammar are followed with some fidelity, and that the citations conform with the journal's rules (generally following the Bluebook, which contains citation and other grammatical rules for lawyers). Editors often struggle with recalcitrant authors who accuse the journal of cramping their writing style.

An important part of editing on any journal is source-checking. Did you ever notice how many footnotes law journals have citing other sources? Well, the journal has probably verified every single one of those citations at least once (and at least twice on some journals). This can be a tedious process that involves looking up the original sources cited by the author and reading the cited portions to make sure that the citations are correct, both in substance and in form. Most journals rely on their newer members to check sources. Some editors genuinely enjoy this process, although they tend to be in the minority.

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