How Important Is Joining a Law Journal for Your Legal Career?

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One of the most common (and arguably most important) extracurricular activities in law school is the law journal. A law journal is generally a student-run journal that publishes scholarship from law professors, on topics of general interest or on very specific topics, if the journal is a specialized one.

Most law schools have one flagship law journal, the “School X Law Review” and a slew of smaller, more specialized journals on specific topics, ranging from environmental law to race and gender, to intellectual property, and beyond. If you can think of a legal topic professors might want to write about, chances are good that a law journal exists somewhere in the country on the topic!

For law students, there are a number of compelling reasons to join the staff of a law journal, and it can be a very beneficial activity for your legal career. However, being on a journal can be extremely time-consuming, so it’s critical to understand what you’re getting into and to balance the downsides against the potential upsides.

Working on a Law Journal

People outside of the legal profession are sometimes surprised to find out that law doesn’t really have peer-reviewed journals the way other academic specialties do. Journals in medicine or the humanities, for example, are run by academics, and the articles are selected and reviewed by other academics working in the field.

In law, law students run the journals and select and edit the articles. Professors submit their work to various journals, and the student editors decide what gets published.

What this means for you, as a law student, is that you could potentially help shape legal scholarship and discourse by being on the board of a law journal. Typically these positions are reserved for 3L students, however. To make it on the board, you’ll have to put in your time in the trenches, editing and cite checking articles before they’re published.

As a 1L or 2L member of a law journal, most of your time will be spent in the law library, or online (if your journal allows it), digging deep into the archives to ensure every single citation is perfect and that every source exists, and says what the author claims it does. Typically, you’ll only be working on a few pages of an article, so this work isn’t that interesting, to be honest.

The upside is that you’ll get very good at cite checking, and you’ll be a Blue Book expert after a few months of law journal work. It is a skillset that’s highly useful in the early years of work as a lawyer (when you’ll probably be the one doing the final citation check), and it’s one that employers tend to value.

Pros and Cons of Working a Law Journal for Your Legal Career

If you’re invited to join the main Law Review at your school, this is a high honor and one that you probably should accept. Judges love to see Law Review on a resume (when you apply for clerkships) and many law firms and other employers are similarly impressed. Even if the work is boring and time-consuming, few people turn down the opportunity to join the Law Review, and you probably shouldn’t either, without a pretty good reason.

The tougher question is whether it makes sense to join a non-Law Review law journal. Here, the tradeoffs are more serious, because these secondary journals are typically less prestigious. (At each school, there’s a hierarchy of perceived prestige of the secondary journals, so you’ll want to be sure you understand this when you’re considering which offer to accept.)

If the journal covers an area of law that you’re deeply interested in, joining the staff is almost certainly a good idea. You’ll build relationships with other people who are interested in the topic (good for networking), you’ll be on the cutting edge of scholarship in the area, and you’ll learn all the useful cite checking skills that you’d learn on any law journal.

If you’re not interested in the topic, however, things get a little murkier. It may not be wise to accept a journal offer you're not especially excited about, for the sole purpose of adding it to your resume. Sure, it has some value, but you could also spend that time drilling down into an activity that’s more directly relevant to your career path – whether that’s a moot court, a pro bono project, an internship, or a side job.

Turning down a journal offer can be tough, but it’s worth it if it allows you to excel in a different area that’s more directly related to what you want to do with your legal career!