One of the most common extracurricular activities for law school students is joining a law journal, which 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, joining the staff of a law journal can be a very beneficial activity for one’s legal career. It can also be extremely time-consuming, so it’s critical for a law student to understand what they’re getting into.
Working on a Law Journal
People outside of the legal profession are sometimes surprised to find out that the legal field 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—in their first-year (1L), second-year, or third-year (3L) of studies—run the journals and select and edit the articles. Professors submit their work to various journals, and the student editors decide what gets published.
Being on the board of a law journal, students could potentially help shape legal scholarship and discourse. Typically, these positions are reserved for 3L students, and to make it on the board, they 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 the 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.
The upside for those students is that they'll get very good at cite-checking and be an expert using the Blue Book legal citation manual, a standard citation resource in the legal field, 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 should probably be accepted 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.
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, which is 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 would 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 an offer to join a law journal you're not especially excited about, for the sole purpose of adding it to your resume.
Although it has some value, you could also be spending that time on 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.