Joining a Law Review Journal

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One of the most common extracurricular activities for law school students is the law journal. A law journal is generally a student-run publication that features articles from law professors on a variety of general topics or more specific ones if the journal is specialized.

Most law schools have one flagship law journal and a slew of smaller, more specialized journals on specific topics such as environmental law, race and gender, intellectual property, and more. If you can think of a legal topic of interest, chances are good that a professor has penned a piece about it in a law journal somewhere in the country.

For law students, there are some compelling reasons to join the staff of a law journal. While it can be a very beneficial activity for one’s legal career, being on a journal can be extremely time-consuming. Subsequently, it’s critical for a law student to understand what they’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 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 the legal field, 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 law students is that they 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, and to make it on the board, they’ll have to put in 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 the 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, they’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 they’ll get very good at cite-checking, and they’ll be a Blue Book expert after a few months of law journal work. This is a skill set that’s highly useful in the early years of work as a lawyer, and it’s one that employers tend to value.

The Pros and Cons of Working on a Law Journal

If a student is invited to join the main Law Review at their school, this is a high honor and one that they should probably accept unless there is a good reason to decline. Judges love to see Law Review on a resume, especially when a new lawyer is applying for a clerkship, 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. 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 law students should be sure to understand this when they’re considering which offer to accept.

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

If a student is not interested in the topic, however, things get a little murkier. It may not be wise to accept a journal offer they’re not especially excited about, for the sole purpose of adding it to their resume. 

Although it has some value, they could also be spending that time on an activity that’s more directly relevant to their 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 them to excel in a different area that’s more directly related to what they want to do with their legal career.