When I was looking at law schools, I was a bit uninformed about what made a law good. Naturally, I knew a higher ranked law school made getting a job easier and that some schools’ names were enough. However, looking back I think I was naive and didn’t do my research on what made a law school strong. One thing people kept telling to look for was what clinics and journals the school had. To be frank, I didn’t really know or care to find out what this meant. Today, however, I understand why this was such good advice and could kick myself for not heeding it two years ago.
If you’re like me, you may be asking yourself… what is a law journal? In my own words, a law journal is a collection of scholarly legal writing, typically tailored to a specific area of the law (specialty journals) or a general publication that the law school publishes (law reviews). Most journals are student-run, meaning the students choose articles for publication and they are in charge of the entire editing process. According to Duhaime’s Law Dictionary, a law journal is ” A scholarly or academic publication presenting commentary of emerging or topical developments in the law, and often specializing in a particular area of the law or specific to a jurisdiction.” For the purposes of full disclosure, most people participate in a journal because it’s a serious resume enhancer. At my school, students participating in journal must complete cite checks (checking the sources and format of citations in the articles published) and write a note (an article on a legal topic of the student’s choosing).
So, how does a student get involved in a journal? I cannot speak for all schools, but from what I’ve heard from other students, the process is similar to my law school. Following finals, students must pick up an entry packet. The packet includes roughly 600 pages of material on a given legal issue and five footnotes to edit for correct Bluebook formatting (the Bluebook is the uniform citation system for legal writing). We then rank our school’s journals in order of which journal we would like to join. For example, I ranked Business Law Review second, behind Law Review. Most people want to be onLaw Review because it’s usually the “best” publication and it gives more leeway for note topic selection because it covers all legal topics. All journals are usually a great experience, but often the question is whether to do one. Even more specifically, students often debate whether to participate in journal during their 3L year by joining the editorial board.
When I was working during the school year, my boss repeatedly told people not to do editorial board, as most people were miserable when they did it. I also have some friends who didn’t compete to join a journal at all. If you’re wondering if journal is worth all the hassle and commitment, I’m here to say that I think it is. Sure, some journals have more intense publication schedules and more issues per year (which translates to more work), but journal was the first thing I participated in during law school that made me happy and made me feel like I really belonged. I loved my journal experience. I thoroughly enjoyed writing my note and cite checks didn’t bother me so long as I planned for them. I have friends who didn’t really enjoy the experience and are glad to be done with it, and that’s a common experience. I have friends who were indifferent and are now finished and moving on, and that’s also a common experience. I think I’m an outlier in my love for my journal and the experience I’ve had. Still, I think 90% of journal is what you choose to make it. If you go into journal thinking it’s terrible, it probably will be. If you didn’t like journal and then join the editorial board, you may feel like it’s a constant nuisance and burden. However, if you pick a note topic you love, manage your time effectively by planning ahead for cite check periods, and choose wisely as to whether to join the editorial board, I think journal is definitely worth doing while in law school!