10.2 – Tips on Law Review Competitions


Tips on Law Review Competitions

Involves time and effort commitment, has grade component

In the previous lesson, I talked about law school extracurriculars and how I think they're important, and in particular, I said one activity that might be particularly rewarding in terms of career benefits is being on a student-edited law journal. You can be an editor of a student-edited law journal in law school that will publish articles written by law professors and practicing lawyers. I said that the particularly rewarding thing to do is try to get on your school's flagship law review.

For example, at Yale, it's the Yale Law Journal; at Indiana, it's the Indiana Law Journal; at Oregon, it's the Oregon Law Review. Basically, a lot of schools will have multiple journals, and some of them will have what we call specialty journals that focus on a particular kind of article, and then they'll have one kind of flagship law review. At most law schools, membership on that flagship law review is a competitive process in some way. Part of that is because, historically, it's been seen as a privilege to be an editor of the flagship law review.

As a result of that, and the result of it being kind of competitive, it is a valuable career credential that will give your application for things like clerkships and summer jobs, and so forth, just a little bit of a boost. I would encourage you to think about applying for one of those, particularly if you're trying to really maximize your success in law school. Historically, the way a lot of schools did it is, you just got invited to be on the law review if your grades were above a certain threshold. That's how it worked at Harvard for many years, for example.

Schools have largely moved away from that system because it turned out that there were some people who were good at getting law school grades, but just had no interest in being good editors, and they would show up, and they just wouldn't do any work.

Law reviews typically involve a fair amount of work to produce. There's a lot of editing that goes into a law review. It is a fairly big time commitment. Schools have moved to a system where there's often some kind of writing competition that typically takes place at the very end of the first year of law school, and people are selected on the basis of their performance.

In that writing competition, at a lot of schools, there's still some component of grade on, so there might be some slots that are reserved for people based on how well they do in terms of their grades, and other slots that are reserved based on just how well they do on the writing competition without consideration of their grades.

I think that's probably fairer. It suggests that even if your grades don't end up quite where you want them to be your first year, you might still have an opportunity to really distinguish yourself by performing well on this law review competition, and then earning a spot on the law review.

Approaching the Competitions

(1) Learn to format citation, write case comments, (2) be serious and limit other commitments

How should you approach those competitions, assuming you're at one of the many schools that has one? They're going to look a little different at every school in terms of what exactly the students might be asked to do, how long they have to do them, and so forth. You're going to want to tailor exactly how you prepare to those specific details, but let me just offer some general advice.

First is, I want you to not do too much in advance, because you've got enough to worry about, you've got your legal research and writing class, you've got your doctrinal classes, you've got exams coming up. Your law review competition is going to be after all that, typically. You want to focus on the tasks that are more immediately at hand. But there's nothing wrong with just doing a little bit of thinking in advance, and maybe finding out early, "What exactly is on the law review competition at my school?"

You go look it up, but it turns out there's a big Bluebook contest, where you have to learn how to format citations, and then you're also going to be asked to write a short case comment. You don't necessarily need to do a lot, but if you know you're going to be tested on Bluebooking, maybe you should pay a little bit of extra attention in your legal research and writing class where you learn the rules of Bluebooking, really try to internalize those, just do a little bit of thinking about that.

If you know you're going to have to write a case comment, spend a little bit of time reading a few of the published case comments in the law review so you kind of get to know, here's what published law review case comments look like, this is the kind of writing the law review thinks is really good. It's just a little bit of that in advance, I think it's going to put you in better shape than most applicants who wait until they actually receive the competition to take it. Just try to get ready. Also, I want you to think about timing. For example, let's imagine that the law review competition is released a week after spring exams, and you have a week to do it. Plan for that.

That means maybe you don't start your summer job that week, you start your summer job the week after, or maybe you don't go on the long vacation that week, you wait until the week after. Figure out where you're going to take it. Are you going to be home? If you're going to be home with your parents, at your parents' house, say, are there going to be lots of distractions? Are your high school friends going to all be home and wanting you to hang out and not pay attention?

Really kind of have a plan. I think that if you're serious about getting on law review, think of this as really your kind of last week of exams, and how would you approach exams? What kind of level of seriousness would you take? If you're staying in a law school dorm, make sure the dorms don't close that week. If they are, figure out somewhere you're going to be. Really be prepared and try to give yourself the least amount of stuff to worry about that isn't the law review competition, because it's a very short amount of time that could have not an ultimately dispositive impact, but it could have a significant impact on your career.

If you can put yourself in a position to succeed, why not? Really do your best with it and be ready to take it and take it seriously. I want to say, you're going to be pretty tired. I remember this week, my life when I did the law review competition, when I was a student at Harvard, I was really tired. I worked hard that whole year, I'd taken a bunch of exams, and I was really ready to be done.

I just remember being exhausted. But if you want to do it, you really just need to try to push through, and it will get better, and you just need to get to the end. I know it's frustrating, but the good news is, a lot of other people are going to be exhausted too, and just completing one of these competitions, you're already in great shape. At a lot of schools, not that many people actually make it all the way. A lot of people pick up the competition, for example, and then run out of steam halfway through the week, and then throw it away and don't even turn it in.

If you don't turn it in, you're not going to get selected. Just try to at least figure out a plan that's actually going to get you to the finish line, where you're actually going to complete it and turn it in, even though I totally understand you're going to find this a little exhausting to do. Then, let's say, you get your packet of materials, maybe you have a week to do it. What I would encourage you to do is, get the packet, read the kind of questions, and figure out basic contours of what you're being asked to do.

Format of Competitions

Writing case comments, proofreading, editing draft documents

Maybe you're being asked to write a case comment on some recent Supreme Court case. Read the instructions, read the kind of leading case that you're being asked to comment on, do that right away, get that in your head, but don't start writing right away.

A typical format might be, you have a case comment, and you also have sort of a proofreading or Bluebooking exercise. I would say, read the material, some of the material for the case comment right away, but then turn to a more mindless task, like the proofreading and Bluebooking exercise. What that means is, in the back of your mind, your mind is going to be thinking about, "What am I going to say? How am I going to write this case comment?" and so forth, and you're kind of working on that, but it's kind of happening in the background.

And so you go get this proofreading exercise done. For that kind of exercise, figure out exactly what you're being asked to do. Are you being asked to do strict Bluebooking? Are you being asked just to look for typos? Are you being asked to edit for structure?

Whatever it is, if they give you some draft document that you need to edit, spend a lot of time with that. Go over it multiple times. There's probably a lot of possible things to catch in there, and the more things you can catch, the better, and so maybe make multiple passes. Maybe alternate between different tasks. Maybe spend day one just doing Bluebooking or half that day doing Bluebooking, and then the other half, turning back to the case comment and maybe starting to outline.

You go back and forth. And then give yourself internal deadlines over the course of the week. I'm going to try to have a kind of sloppily written draft done by Wednesday, and then I'm going to edit and proofread it for Thursday and Friday. Again, I know I've said this before, but this is a situation where attention to detail, proofreading, and making sure that your work product looks really clean is important because one thing that editors are asked to do is really make sure that the law journal that they're publishing is in really good shape, looks clear, has no typos, and so forth.

If you turn in something that's written with typos, the other editors are not going to have a lot of confidence in your abilities. Focus on that, and give yourself a lot of time to edit. Give yourself a lot of time for something to go wrong. Don't spend the whole week working, and then, let's say, you have to turn it in by that afternoon, and then it turns out that you have some computer glitch, and you can't get it done.

You have to turn it in hard copy, you can't get it printed. Have some contingencies, have some backup plans. Basically, be really prepared so that if something goes a little bit wrong, it's not going to throw you off, because that would be immensely frustrating to you if you spent all this time working, and then somehow botch it at the end because your printer breaks or because your computer has a glitch.

Always good advice to back up your work as much as possible, but particularly in a serious situation like this, where you may not have any opportunity to get an extension and the consequences are pretty significant. Do your best and ultimately just turn something in, because, again, if you don't turn it in, it can't possibly be selected, and you might as well at least try to turn something in, even if you feel like it isn't the absolute best work that you've done. Just do your best under the circumstances.

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