Friday, January 19, 2018

Ten Tips for Law Review Write-on Success

small_4450623309First-year finals are wrapping up and the next dark cloud looming on the horizon is journal write-on. Journal participation can be one of the most fulfilling (and grueling) law school experiences. It is highly valued by prospective employers and making it onto your school’s flagship journal is one of the most coveted “brass rings” up for grabs. Making Law Review does not guarantee you the Biglaw job of your dreams but, it does make your résumé stand out from the crowd and, it will–in all likelihood–open many doors for you. The following ten tips are based on my experience as a 1L writing onto my school’s flagship journal and on my experience as an editor evaluating write-on submissions.

1. Budget the Entire Amount of Time Allotted

The best piece of advice I can give is to budget the whole week (or however much time you are given) for write-on. As an editor grading write-on submissions for my journal, I could clearly tell the difference between the students that put in the proper amount of time and those that had not. Write-on is not about eloquent, sweeping prose, it is about clear, concise, and polished legal writing. Taking the entire day before the submission is due to revise and proofread will place you in a great place.

2. Read the Instructions Carefully

This really applies to almost everything in your legal career. The editors grading the write-on submissions will likely have started at their summer positions and will be pressed for time. Submissions that fail to conform with the substantive, procedural, or stylistic requirements are often rejected immediately without much thought. Taking note of deadlines and requirements at the beginning of the process can also prevent a last-minute crisis.

3. Read and Tab the Bluebook

Citations are also a huge factor when choosing new staff members. For many competitors, the white pages of the Bluebook will be very unfamiliar because legal writing courses tend to emphasize in-text citations. Familiarizing yourself with the Bluebook before write-on begins can be very advantageous. The job of a journal staff member essentially boils down to citation checking. A handful of people will write a note or comment that is selected for publication, but everyone will log many hours checking citations. Knowing the Bluebook and being well-practiced with the index will improve your citations and help you stand out from the crowd. You probably don’t need to read the Bluebook thoroughly all the way through, but you should skim it so that you get a general sense of where things are located. It is also advisable to tab and label every section that is likely to be relevant and thoroughly read the most commonly applicable rules (i.e., 5, 10, 12, 15, 16).

4. Complete any Citation Exam First

Many write-on competitions include a citation exam as a component. Completing the citation exam up front has several advantages. First, you will be sure to complete it; many students seem to wait until the last minute and submit incomplete and inaccurate exams. If the citation exam is weighted heavily, this can be disastrous. Second, it allows you to familiarize yourself with the Bluebook before beginning the writing process. Finally, sitting down and completing the citation exam will help to focus you on the task at hand. If you have had a week or more off since your last exam, getting back into the law school mindset can take a while and being forced to look up Bluebook rules can help snap you back into it.

Remember to re-check your answers before submitting. You will probably be a much better Bluebooker after a few days of write-on and may catch a few mistakes.

5. Read Examples and Published Case Comments

Read through any examples that the Law Review makes available. Every school has a different competition with different expectations and much of the generic advice found online and in guide books may not adequately address the intricacies of your competition. If no samples are made available, search a legal database for case comments and read through a few to get a feel for the type of writing involved. The books mentioned in tip number ten below will also provide some guidance.

6. Sign up for a Free Trial of the Chicago Manual of Style Online

The Chicago Manual of Style (affiliate link) is the style guide used by many journals and offers a free one month trial to their online edition here. The online edition is searchable and includes access to the Q&A section. If you have a question about usage or style that the Bluebook does not address, the CMS should be your go-to source.

Note: Some journals may use the Redbook (affiliate link), or another style manual. You should attempt to follow the style manual used by your desired journal, however, the CMS free trial will likely work for your purposes and will cost you nothing.

7. Have the Preferred Dictionary Available

If you can find out what dictionary your preferred journal uses in advance, you should obtain a copy or at the very least bookmark its website. Most style manuals will refer you to a dictionary on issues of hyphenation and preferred spelling—ensuring that your writing conforms with the expectations of the reviewing editors will display an attention to detail that can drastically increase your chances of selection.

8. Organize the Write-on Packet

Some write-on packets border on the absurd with page counts topping 1,000. Keeping everything organized is key. Hopefully at some point during the semester you raided the LexisNexis and Westlaw swag tables and are fully stocked with sticky notes and tabs. Try to organize the sources by categories and by relevance. You probably won’t use every source but staying organized will prevent you from neglecting a highly relevant source.

9. Do Not be Afraid to Take a Bold Stance

Remember that the editors reviewing your submission will also be grading many others on the same topic. If your write-on consists of a case comment, do not be afraid of disagreeing with the Court and arguing the dissent was correct. Reading fifty case comments agreeing with the Court’s decision gets monotonous very quickly. The case or topic chosen for write-on was most likely chosen because of the diverse number of opinions it can solicit, take advantage of this fact and make your submission stand out.

This advice comes with one important caveat. If the write-on topic touches on a “hot-button” issue and your desired journal has a particularly strong ideological philosophy, consider this fact before finalizing your thesis. If the stance you take angers and repulses the grading editors, your chances will decline dramatically.

10. Read a Writing Guide if Time Permits

I also read Making Law Review by Wes Henricksen (affiliate link) a couple of days before my write-on. It was a quick read and I followed the advice that was applicable to my write-on. Eugene Volokh’s Academic Legal Writing (affiliate link) is also a great resource, not just for write-on but for all legal writing. The Volokh text is more of an investment than the Henricksen book, but will serve you well throughout your legal career.

photo credit: jayneandd via photopin cc

Disclaimer: The statements and views expressed in this posting are my own and do not reflect those of my law firm. They are intended for general informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.


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