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Working on law review is a lot like eating vegetables. You may not enjoy it, but it's good for you.
What the Heck is Law Review, Anyway?
Let's start with the basics. Law reviews are academic journals that publish articles by law professors, judges, lawyers and even law students. If you think that sounds boring, you're right. Here are the titles of a few random law review articles: "Textualism and the Equity of the Statute" and "Preventing Insider Misappropriation of Not–for–Profit Health Care Provider Assets: A Federal Tax Law Prescription."
The unique thing about law reviews is that students run every aspect of them. Typically, they spend their first year on the journal editing hundreds of footnotes on articles to make sure they are perfectly accurate and impeccably formatted. More senior members of law review edit and choose articles for publication.
Why Write for Law Review?
Law review is a great resume builder. Potential employers recognize that review members have honed their editing skills, learned how to support a legal argument and conducted copious amounts of legal research. Working on the review also shows your commitment to an intellectually demanding activity.
In other words, employers assume that if you were willing to spend hundreds of hours correcting footnotes, you will be even more willing to spend thousands of hours writing and editing documents when someone is actually paying you for it.
There can also be more noble benefits to working on law review. As professor Kenney Hegland writes in his book, Introduction to The Study and Practice of Law, "Student editors can make a major impact; law reviews have focused national attention on otherwise neglected areas of the law, such as the law of the poor, the law of mental health, and the law of the elderly."
Earning a Spot on Law Review
To write for the law review you must undergo a very competitive process. You can become a member through a writing competition, your first-year grades or some combination of the two.
At the end of the first year or sometime during the following summer, you'll receive a packet of information involving an actual court case—probably a case pending before the United States Supreme Court. You might also receive an editing test.
You'll need to create your own case comment (a student–written law review article) based only on the material in your packet. Expect to spend about 10 days stuck in a study carrel. You'll submit your case comment anonymously to ensure that your writing is evaluated on legal writing and form only (and not on how totally cool you are). The current members of the law review and perhaps a professor or two grade all the case comments.
If your grades are among the very highest in your class, you'll probably make law review automatically. If your grades are somewhere between mediocre and stellar, you must excel in the dastardly annual ritual that is the writing competition. If your grades aren't so great, you still have a shot at law review at schools that have completely democratic writing competitions. If you attend one of these schools, you could have the worst grades in your class and still make law review if you write a "publishable–quality" case comment. At many schools, though, if your grades are mediocre or worse, you won't be eligible for law review membership.
The Two Flavors of Law Review
Law reviews come in two delicious flavors. Most law schools have a premium legal journal, such as the California Law Review or the Yale Law Journal. These journals are what legal types mean when they refer to "law review."
Beyond the premium journals, many law schools have other journals devoted to a specific area of the law, such as race, gender or the environment. Membership on these journals is generally open to any student who wants to participate, though some have a more competitive selection process. Working on a subject–specific journal is an excellent way to cultivate expertise in a field, and gives you the opportunity to take on more responsibility in a less competitive environment.
While law review can be tedious, it impresses employers and gives law students a chance to practice skills that will be useful in the job market.