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Reviewing Law Review (Journals, How to get them, What to expect, etc.)

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UVA2B
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Reviewing Law Review (Journals, How to get them, What to expect, etc.)

Post by UVA2B » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:48 pm

Among the many things 0L and 1Ls secretly or publicly strive for, law review (or law journal if you're at places like Yale or GULC) is right up there with federal clerkships, Biglaw, and prestigious PI, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Being on law review can act as a strong signal to employers and judges of your ability to analyze and write about the law, which will inevitably help in getting a job and building a reputation that will continue to serve you in this career for years down the line. Wanting to be invited onto your school's law review is totally understandable and it's a goal most law students have. This guide will help explain what exactly law review and journals are generally, how the selection process works at most schools (and important caveat: if your school deviates from this general description, please feel free to comment and clarify how it differs at your school), the type of workload you can expect to see as a member of law review (or a journal) with a brief description of the managing board responsibilities most journals use, and some discussion on why this is helpful for your career and what it can do for you down the line in securing employment. If you have any questions about the process, the workload, or anything about this guide, please feel free to ask any clarifying questions you may have. As with most guides here, this will be somewhat generic to cover a wide range of schools with varying methods of picking journal members and dividing important assignments on the journal, so it's bound to be inexact and at times inapplicable at individual schools. But as our user base grows and uses the site, hopefully that knowledge base will continue to grow and feed the collective wisdom of our membership here.

I don't even know what a Journal is, please advise

Like most professional disciplines, law journals and law reviews are the vessel for academics and legal professionals to advance their research, their analysis, and their legal theories to the rest of the profession. The publications can be anything that is deemed relevant by the managing board of that journal at that time based on the quality of that scholarship. And that managing board consists mostly of second and third year law students at the respective law school that publishes that journal or law review (there are non-law school-affiliated legal journals and publications, but this guide isn’t meant for those journals).

Welcome to an interesting sub-sect of academia where the gatekeepers of scholarship are students editing and publishing the work of academics. Unlike other professional areas that undergo rigorous peer review and must meet harsh publication standards following multiple layers of academic scrutiny by other academics, the legal profession relies on the hard work of smart, well-intentioned, passionate, and relatively inexperienced law students to decide what scholarship is worthy of being published in an academic publication. This system is at least controversial among the legal profession, and likely for good reasons, but the system generally survives and thrives because most of the profession relies heavily on vague senses of prestige and ranking, where academics buy into the system because their professional reputation relies on being published in journals that are already deemed prestigious because prestigious law school names are attached to it. Please understand that I'm not trying to be unnecessarily harsh on this system as it exists, because it's pretty widely understood in the legal profession that this problem/oddity exists, so I'm merely acknowledging it. Getting published by the Yale Law Journal or Harvard Law Review lends credibility to the scholarship in and of itself, even though academics will simultaneously care about who published their article, but also intensely care about how often their article gets cited by other academics, as that is a discrete, objective measure of how wise their legal analysis is for the community they are writing for.

Ok, so why do I want to be on a journal?

There are a few concrete reasons to join a journal's editing team, plus a few reasons that some value intrinsically that must be appreciated. First, it will be expected of you in a lot of jobs. If you want to be a litigator or anything involving legal research and writing, your resume would look off it didn't include experience on a journal. Second, it can be a way to signal strength or interest in a particular legal discipline (this is a point more for secondary journals where there is more specialization). Finally, in parsing resumes that largely look the same and involve a lot of the same types of info, not having a journal on your resume can be an easy way to cull the herd in picking people for a limited number of jobs. So, at minimum, you're removing any questions an interviewer may otherwise have, and it's possible you could be improving your position because you were on a journal that speaks to that practice area. Much of the above is a reason to join any kind of journal, not reasons to join the flagship journal at your school.

Being on the flagship journal for your school still has most of the above apply, but it's also a much stronger signal to employers about the work you've done and your abilities to think about and write about the law. There is a reason attorney profiles will list being on a flagship journal of their school 20 years after they graduate. It is a badge of legal acumen that you can carry for the rest of your career, and in that sense, it fulfills the appearance of proficiency and intelligence that an attorney relies on to be successful in this career (there is more to being successful than being intelligent and having badges like a flagship journal on your resume to be sure, but all of these things are additive and cumulative, so every bit helps). So while the biggest bump you'll see in your professional life will be in getting the first job you want, because eventually your experience and your successes in the job will drown out things like law review on your resume, it will always be there and fellow attorneys will always value it to some degree.

Getting beyond the pragmatic professional reasons for being on a journal, some people believe in the intrinsic experience of being on a journal. It allows you to pursue your own interests in some field, whether that be from writing a note for the journal or just absorbing scholarship in an area of law that interests you. You're somewhat limited by the scholarship that is submitted to your journal in absorbing the new scholarship (if it's not something you're writing yourself), but there is always the opportunity to pursue topics that pique your interest. Further, there is some intrinsic value to advancing interesting and impactful scholarship and helping an author to refine it and make it better, because anything your journal publishes has the opportunity to advance the field of thought in a given discipline. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be moving mountains or championing a cause because you help someone publish an article about it, but legal scholarship will always be a paramount part of the legal profession, so the work you do to help quality scholarship get to the public and to the profession ostensibly gives lawyers more tools to advance the arguments they want to make in that field. Altruistically, that work has value.

I'm convinced, now what do I have to do to get on a journal?

All of this will be somewhat school-dependent, but I'll try to describe the process as generically as I can to cover as many schools' journal tryout processes to apply broadly.

Law schools will use some mixture of a few types of qualifications to be invited onto the flagship journal that also informs the process for selection on secondary journals. The first is the most obvious and most objective: GPA. If your grades are baller, most schools will have some spots on their flagship journal for someone like you. That can be anywhere from half the invites based on GPA alone to GPA being only one factor in making flagship journal decisions that is not determinative, but it gives you a serious leg up in being selected. But flagship journals will always factor in your 1L grades (I've never heard of a school not considering 1L grades in making law review decisions, but if it happens, I'm willing to be wrong here in those isolated cases).

On the other end of the objectivity-subjectivity spectrum, there may be spots for completely subjective spots on the flagship journal. This could be spots specifically for diversity on the journal (with a relatively loose definition of diversity, but just a general impetus to improve on diverse law students having more of a voice in these echelons of legal academia, which is sadly wanting in a lot of ways), or it could be based on some other subjective measure (for instance, UVA currently has something called the "Virginia Plan" that allows people to write a personal statement to show why they bring something different/unique to law review, and there are a certain number of slots available for that. It's kind of like a diversity program, but it's not as explicitly aimed at traditional forms of diversity).

Finally, and most importantly, there is the journal tryout. Welcome to self-flaggelating hell, courtesy of the current law review members. Typically held either during spring semester of 1L year or sometime following 1L finals, it's a concentrated and compressed timeframe to digest a monumental amount of materials (usually somewhere north of 250 pages of materials, but I've heard horror stories of as much as 400 pages of cases, articles, etc.), think critically and analytically about that material, and write a semi-coherent and interesting analysis of that legal topic. Then, somewhere in the midst of muddling through that analytical exercise, you'll also have to demonstrate an ability to correct arcane rules of citation that are unique to the legal profession, requiring looking for intentionally italicized periods that shouldn't be and correcting parantheticals so they start with (holding that...) vice (held that...). This will either be through some quiz-based format regarding the dreaded Bluebook that the entire legal profession uses, or it will be more functional where you'll be given an academic article that has been edited to be incorrect in very specific ways in accordance with the Bluebook, and your job is to look for all of the incorrect citations, both in the body of the text and in the below the line citations. At the end of your school's predetermined timeline, you'll turn in your Bluebook editing test and your analysis of that legal issue, and all of that will be graded by the managing boards of every journal you want to be considered for, both the flagship and secondary journals. The timeline for all of this will be somewhere from 3 days-2 weeks. Regardless of how long it will last, I promise you one thing: it's not fun, and you won't likely want to do it ever again after it's done.

Now, these three things should not be understood in discrete baskets. Most schools I'm aware of will tend to mix and match the three categories (GPA, subjective programs, and the tryout) in making flagship journal invitations. You'll have to learn your own school's journal acceptance criteria, particularly the invitations for your flagship journal. As a general guideline, understand that your flagship journal will care more about your legal writing and analysis, relatively speaking, while the secondary journals are likely to care more about your Bluebook editing skills. Depending on whether you're gunning for the flagship or more just looking to put a journal on your resume, focus your efforts accordingly.

In terms of advice in handling the journal try-out process, I'll keep it brief and what I would imagine is universally true across schools and journals. First, proofread what you want to submit. It's unlikely you'll lose a flagship journal because of a split infinitive, but realize that the people reading your submission are noticeably less stressed when they grade your writing than you were when you were writing it, so having something that is more or less grammatically solid will be appreciated by those grading. Second, respect page limits. If they tell you the page limit is 10 pages, you should write somewhere between 9-10 pages more than likely. Don't try to game margins and fonts (there are likely rules against this), and don't try to pass off something that is too short or too long. If you're at 12 pages, you need to critically assess what is critical to your analysis and what can be cut. If you're at 7 pages, you likely haven't covered enough analysis to persuasively write on the topic. Focus on meeting page guidelines, because it's what the graders had in mind when they put together the tryout. Finally, don't sacrifice the good in the quest for the perfect. Your time will be compressed, and stressing over what you wrote to the point where you're pulling all-nighters trying to edit and revise your writing will likely reach an inflection point where your work gets worse, not better. There is serious benefit to editing, revising, getting away from your writing, and then coming back to it to edit and revise some more, but you have diminishing returns as an individual, and too often law students spent too much time worrying about whether they've created a good work product and waste time, health, and sleep spinning their tires trying to improve what is mostly their best work. Don't get me wrong when you read this: you need to edit, revise, and read your writing critically. You need to scrap writing that should be scrapped, and you need to shoot for concise language when you've failed to make points succinctly. But appreciate diminishing returns, because I promise you that your graders will reflect those diminishing returns when they grade your writing. Ask anyone who has done significant amounts of legal writing: it can always get better, but the best way to get better at it isn't just continually revamping something you've already written, but writing something new. So while you might be able to turn your work product into a 90% with an extra hour or two of critical reading and thought, it's possible your time is better served in this environment to accept the 85% solution (I'm obviously making up these numbers to illustrate the point, so please understand the point that way).

What are the managing boards looking for in picking their journal?

Your flagship journal is mostly covered above, but if it's not totally clear: the more ways you kick butt, the more likely you are to be invited to join your school's flagship journal. High GPA, interesting narrative/perspective, and a really competent legal analysis and attention to detail will carry the day (and on the last point, please understand that most journal tryout analysis will be degrees of meh, with some outstandingly good and others disastrously bad).

As for secondary journals, who have less resources and less intense publishing requirements, the focus will be the Bluebook/editing portion of the tryout. Secondary journals aren't considering GPA mostly, and they usually lack the bandwidth to seriously grade the legal analysis you did in your written entry, so the objective measure of grading your editing efforts will be the best way for them to see how well you can handle the cite checking they will require from you. Some journals will use the editing component as the first gatekeeper to make decisions, while others will grade the editing component and invite everyone interested in their journal to join because they're less picky. That doesn't necessarily mean the more selective journal will look better on a resume, but it at least means you hopped over a slightly higher gate than the journal that invites everyone in (no employer will know about/care about this, just making the point). In terms of secondary journals, pick the one that interests you most and fits in your career narrative, regardless of how selective they appear to be during the journal tryout process.

That sounds horrible, but the actual job isn't that bad, right?

It depends, but generally speaking, no it's not as bad as the tryout, but it can be more irritating in ways. Once you're selected for a journal, flagship or otherwise, your principle role will be as a cite checker (unless you end up in a more senior editor position that I'll discuss briefly below). Cite checking can be a fairly easy job, or it can be intensely painful, depending on the assignment you're given and how many of them you're given. Generally, the number of cite checks you do will be driven by the size of your journal and how often it publishes. So, for instance, you may only have one cite check assignment if you're on a secondary journal that only publishes one or two articles once or twice per year. That single assignment will typically consist of 5-10 citations that shouldn't be more than a couple hours of work. So what is a cite check? Imagine you have an article laced with footnotes that claim other sources make a point, illustrate a point, or demonstrate what the author is claiming. Do you have any idea if that source actually exists, and further, whether that source actually says what the author purports it does? Not until you cite check it. So your job will be to hunt down that source, see if that source is being accurately represented in the article, and finally, putting that citation into proper Bluebook format. If you're talking about a Supreme Court or Federal Appellate court opinion, the cite check will be an easy Lexis or Westlaw check, no fuss, no muss. But rarely are citations that easy and obvious. Just to illustrate the horror that can happen in a cite check, I'll tell a brief story of a friend of mine. They were doing cite checks that were discussing New Zealand law (I forget the exact topic, but remember distinctly it was New Zealand law), so they found the law the first cite was discussing. They verified the source said what the author claimed, and they thought everything was good. Then they did the next citation, and they discovered that the next statute cited actually amended the previous statute, but New Zealand doesn't legislate by amending laws currently in place. Instead, they just pass new laws. So from that point on, not only did my friend have to find the source being cited, they had to search for any New Zealand statutes related to that citation, because it was now entirely possible another statute superseded the law being cited, which would make the citation no longer accurate. After 10 hours working on 8 citations, they gave up not actually feeling very confident that the citation was good but accepting that they could only look so long to ensure the citations were good. I give them credit, because I wouldn't have even lasted that long. The point being: sometimes cite checks are more than a minor annoyance, especially when you're up against a publication deadline and the citations are particularly annoying. And this doesn't even cover when the citations aren't available online, because forgive me for being all new-aged, but if it can't be found online today, it doesn't deserve to be cited in legal academia. Fight me, property and legal historian academics.

Now, how often should I expect to do cite checks as a 2L? Realistically, you're likely looking at anywhere from one cite check assignment during your 2L year to somewhere in the 6-10 range (these numbers are mostly looking at flagship journals). Different journals will handle these responsibilities differently, and some will be more intense than others. Some will give their first assignments during your 1L summer and won't let up, while others will try to be hands off during critical times during 2L (OCI, finals, etc.). The point being: if you're on a flagship, expect to work early, often, and consistently. If you end up on a secondary journal, that journal's publishing frequency will drive how much work you do and when you're required to do it.

One final point that needs to be appreciated: journal notes. If you're going to be on a flagship journal, you'll likely need to produce some scholarship that is worthy of publishing as a journal note. And some secondary journals will require them as well. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but producing ~15k words of academic scholarship is no joke, especially if it doesn't come with class credit. The upside is that you likely have a graduation requirement for a written product, which the note may be able to satisfy so as to not redouble your efforts, but realize that you may be working on legal scholarship of your choosing during your 2L-3L year that may not count for any credits and may or may not count as a graduation requirement, meaning you're potentially doing a ton of heavy lifting for your journal that doesn't benefit you anywhere else (beyond possibly producing something that is worth publishing in a journal, which has some professional value, but also isn't guaranteed that anyone will want to publish your note).

I did the cite checks during 2L, but now they need a managing board...should I?

That really depends what you're looking to get out of it. In terms of professional gain, there likely isn't much to gain unless you expect to still be hunting for jobs well into 3L year. Or, alternatively, you like putting leadership positions on your resume that don't necessarily inform your first job, but might help down the road, it may help. But the work tends to be more intense, and the moving pieces make it a significant time suck during your 3L year when ideally you're focused on graduating and getting ready for bar prep and starting your practice. That's not to say you can't still be focused on those things, but your journal will take up significant portions of your time.

So what does the managing board look like, and what do they do? On top, you have the editor-in-chief, or EIC, who runs the journal. They are responsible for the direction of the journal, managing all of the senior editors, and ensuring publishing deadlines are met. In order for the journal to function, the EIC has to be on top of everything. Beneath them, typically you have a Managing Editor. While less involved with the academic side of the journal, the ME runs the business side of the journal and ensures the other senior editors have the resources they need to help the journal succeed. So they're managing the Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg (read as the major services that pull scholarship from the journal) contracts while managing the scholarship submission portal that the journal uses (basically whatever online portal the journal uses for academics and authors use to submit their work for consideration by the journal). Typically, the EIC and Managing Editor are the two people to primarily keep the cogs moving (and arguably the Submissions Editors also fit on this level because they're responsible for picking scholarship to publish). Below the EIC and Managing Editor, you'll have more specific editors who cover specific aspects of the journal (think technology editor, submissions editors, articles editors, etc.). Their job is to manage their particular operational aspect of the journal, which ensures the EIC has people who can maintain deadlines and publish in their area of responsibility on time and with high quality.

I don't want to spend too much time on Managing Board makeup because it does differ from journal to journal, but just understand that as a 3L, if you decide to get into journal leadership, some of your time will be sucked up managing the day to day of the journal, and the payoff for doing so will be somewhat limited and almost entirely thankless. Someone has to do it, but if you're not interested in taking on the leadership roles and you can give your effort to other things during 3L, you might be better off focusing elsewhere.

Questions?

I've probably missed some critical aspects of getting on and working for a journal, and I didn't intend this guide to be entirely comprehensive. As always, the questions and conversation relating to journals and the work surrounding them will be more informative than one poster's perspective on the topic. So please, if you have questions or amplifying perspective on journals and law review, please provide your additional insight. Guides should mostly be a living conversation, not a static understanding of the topic. I'll answer any questions I can to the best of my ability, but hopefully this guide is the beginning, not the definitive. All the best!

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Slytherpuff
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Re: Reviewing Law Review (Journals, How to get them, What to expect, etc.)

Post by Slytherpuff » Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:41 pm

Just a little bit to add in terms of getting onto secondary journals. This might only be useful for NYU Law and its mutual ranking system though:

I was in charge of grading writing competition entries and selecting our incoming class when I was on my journal's board. When grading everyone's entries, we assigned a particular weight to each component (bluebooking, comment, GPA, resume/personal statement, and even how high they ranked us) and placed a heavy emphasis on finding people who were interested in our journal's subject matter. We weren't looking for people who were the best bluebookers since we knew we'd be able to train our staff editors pretty quickly in the fall. If you're interested in a secondary journal and know you don't have time to submit a perfect comment or fix every bluebooking error they give you, you might still have a good chance of making it onto that secondary journal if your school lets you submit personal statements explaining why you really want to be on that particular journal.

Also, at NYU (and possibly at many other schools) journal boards are selected around January of 2L year so that there's plenty of time to transition to the new board and give the 3Ls breathing room before graduation. It means you'll have that board position on your resume sooner, and also that your 2L spring could start to be really busy if you're still finishing up other leadership positions from that year!

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Re: Reviewing Law Review (Journals, How to get them, What to expect, etc.)

Post by UVA2B » Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:49 pm

Thanks Slytherpuff, getting insight from those involved with journal decisions at schools is really important for this guide, because obviously what I wrote won't apply universally.

I think your insight is consistent with my own in selecting editors and board selections at UVA, which helps drive home that while each journal and school does things slightly differently, most of the underlying tenets carry across schools.

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Re: Reviewing Law Review (Journals, How to get them, What to expect, etc.)

Post by proteinshake » Fri Nov 09, 2018 1:21 pm

how shitty of a note can I write for my secondary journal? need to focus on finals.

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Re: Reviewing Law Review (Journals, How to get them, What to expect, etc.)

Post by UVA2B » Fri Nov 09, 2018 2:05 pm

That’s a deceptively easy question (and I’m guessing mostly rhetorical). If you’re hoping to publish or use your note to satisfy a writing requirement for graduation, put the work in so meeting the publishing/graduation requirements will be easier based on frontloading the work. If you’re just trying to satisfy a note requirement and plan on never publishing and have another plan for graduation writing requirements (assuming you have one, since I think that’s an ABA req?), just make sure your journal will accept the note. That means passable bluebooking and not blatantly incorrect scholarship (which is an exceedingly low bar).

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