Law Review Write-On Tips, Part 4 -- Why Be on a Law Review?

A commenter asked why anyone would want to be on a law review. Here's the answer I give in my book:

Being on a law review takes a lot of effort, often many hours a week that you'd rather spend studying for other classes or having fun. Why do it?

1. The credential: Law review is a valuable credential on your resume. It's especially valuable if you want to get a judicial clerkship or a teaching job, but it's also helpful for other jobs, too. Employers assume that if you've been on law review, you've had more practice editing, proofreading, and writing. Also, because many law reviews (especially general-purpose journals) have selective admissions procedures, having "made law review" is seen as evidence of good grades or of writing skill.

What's more, unlike grades, law review is a credential that's socially acceptable to talk about. It's hard to politely work your grades into casual conversation with potential employers. The grades will be on your resume, but not everyone at your prospective new job will have seen the resume, and those who have seen it may well have forgotten it.

But law review is a project that you've been involved in, so you can safely discuss it (of course, so long as you aren't too blatant about it). "What are you doing at school this year?" "Oh, law review is taking up a lot of my time." "Oh, really? What do you on the law review?" "I'm the chief articles editor." Polite but impressive.

2. Editing, proofreading, and source-checking training: The key to good legal writing is the ability to edit and proofread your own work, and care in using sources. The key to these things is practice, both with your work and with others' work. Law review will give you plenty of such practice — and in the process will teach you to pay attention to detail, another important skill lawyers must have.

3. Incentive to write and opportunity to publish: Many law journals require you to write a student Note, as a condition of being promoted from a staffer to an editor. Some of these Notes (the number varies from journal to journal) end up being published.

As I mention in Part VII.A, you can indeed write a Note and get it published even if you're not on law review. But writing is hard, and if you don't have an obligation and a deadline, it's easy to keep putting it off. Being on a law review commits you to making that effort, and makes it easier for you to get a publication out of your work.

4. Cooperative and valuable work: Most things you do in law school — read, study, take exams — you do by yourself. Even those things that are cooperative, such as study groups or moot court, tend to be exercises, pedagogically valuable but with little effect on the outside world.

Law review lets you work as part of a team that produces something that matters: The articles you edit may end up being cited by courts and by scholars, and might actually make some difference to the development of the law and legal thinking. This sort of team effort can be exciting and rewarding.

5. Exposure to ideas: Working on the law review will lead you to read quite a few law review articles — and if you're in the articles department, it will lead you to read very many. Many of the articles aren't going to be very interesting or helpful to you, but some will be. This exposure to ideas can be both exciting for its own sake, and valuable for your future work, either scholarly or practical. (Naturally, you could just decide to expose yourself to ideas by reading articles on your own; but few people have the discipline to do that unless law review forces them to.)

Mr. Law Review (mail):
Lots of alcohol.

And sex.

Lots of sex.

Incredible Practical Jokes.

Stories galore.

And some of the best friends you'll ever make.

I realize that this isn't exactly what people think of when they think of a bunch of law nerds dutifully making sure that commas are properly italicized, but our Law Review (UCLA) was an interesting place the years I was there.
5.3.2006 8:25pm
Not to be overly cynical, but #1 truly is the overriding point here. Time after time you will encounter snotty hiring partners who were on law review and think law review is the ultimate credential. Long after employers have stopped caring about your grades, the law review credential will follow you and open doors for you.

Of course, you might well say "if someone is going to open doors for me, I want them to precede rather than follow me," but that point goes to the ultimate uselessness of law review. Still, it's worth your time to try out.
5.3.2006 8:48pm
Let's not just breeze by the workload here. There is a small but non-zero possibility that Law Review will wind up destroying your life, at least for 2L year. My girlfriend wound up devoting 14 hours a week on average to her journal--which actually understates the effect, as the work came in waves. Adding this on top of the standard law school workload can be quite stressful, especially so if you want to do clinical work as well.

The credentialing value is somewhat questionable as well. It's nice to have as an add-on, but it isn't super helpful by itself. If your journal membership doesn't match up with your grades, be prepared to get a lot of thinly veiled "so, how did you get on law review?" questions in interviews.

All of the other listed benefits can likely be achieved more efficiently through membership in another journal, or through extra-curricular activities.
5.3.2006 9:24pm
Guest poster (mail):
I certainly recommend people try for law review -- though it can be a very consuming part of your life. It depends strongly on the law review, Yale L.J. and Stanford L.R. are reported to be 5, 10 hours of work a week, max, whereas Harvard L.R. is far more than this.

Besides being very educational, law review is genuinely a great community and excellent source of friends. It also particularly helps when applying for judicial clerkships (law firms care a lot less than judges do about law review).
5.3.2006 9:33pm
Count me unconvinced. I'm still not applying.
5.3.2006 9:43pm
MTM (mail):
From my experience as a 3L on a non-law review international journal, getting on Law Review is a big deal for credentialing purposes. As far as other law journals go, any credentialing value is low relative to the amount of work involved.
5.3.2006 9:44pm
Arvin (mail) (www):
The workload for Law Review is not non-zero, but I find 14 hours a week to be excessive for a staffer. Even a Board member shouldn't put in that much, unless (s)he is in a chief position or in the Articles department.

At UCLA, a staffer gets up to 6 cite-checking assignments throughout the entire 2L year. I never spent much more than 20 hours per assignment, and I don't think any of my fellow staffers spent more than 30. On top of law review I was able to compete in both Moot Court and Mock Trial. And yes, I went to all my classes, had a life, etc. So I would think that if all you're doing is Law Review, it'll make the year harder, but not impossible.

Before Law Review, I was a staffer on other secondary journals. I can say that the quality of work produced and edited under the primary law review (at least in my experience), was far superior. Part of it is just commitment: virtually no one leaves Law Review. On the other hand, people on other journals tell me horror stories of how their staffers just quit on them. Others tell about how they always get crappy articles, because, if the article is good, usually it's sent to and taken by the primary Law Review.

Not saying that secondary journals don't produce anything good or that one must do Law Review to succeed after or during law school. But I think that the benefits are well-worth the costs, especially if you're someone like me, who isn't exactly cut out for law school exams, and thus has less than stellar grades.
5.3.2006 9:48pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
It also helps when you're arguing about something in a jointly written brief with an intransigent someone who wasn't on law review.
5.3.2006 9:58pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
The credential aspect, especially as characterized by Steve, sounds a lot like hazing, honestly. And let's face it... Fraternities open doors too. Pass.
5.3.2006 10:01pm
DaveK (mail):
6. It's fun. Sure, it can be a lot of work, but it's putting a lot of work into producing a professional product. Few law review editors--and no competent ones--make needless work for their staffers; you're doing the hard work you are for a reason. Editing can be fun; reading insightful law review articles usually is fun; and even blue-booking can be fun, in the same slightly sick way that working through the tax code or sentencing guidelines can be fun. But getting a bound volume back from the publisher with your name in the front, and knowing that you had a major role in making it the quality piece of work that it is, is definitely fun.

7. You'll make friends. Some of the best friends I made in law school, and the ones I'm most likely to keep in touch with both socially and professionally in the years to come, were from law review.

And really, the workload isn't bad. I say this as a recent executive editor of a top-10 law review. (I was one of three people responsible for the technical and stylistic editing of all our pieces and for overseeing the 2L citecheckers. The only people who worked harder, I'd say, were the managing editor, the EIC, and the senior articles editor. It was a lot of work, sure, but it never ruined my life--and you don't have to be one of the most-involved editors your 3L year if you don't enjoy this kind of thing.)
5.3.2006 10:59pm
Why not join a law review?

1. Opportunity cost. If what you want out of law school is #4 (working with other people), #6 (fun), and #7 (friends) - there are far more productive ways to spend your time and that will make you a better balanced person and lawyer.

2. Charting your career in the law. For Eugene, a brilliant, academic scholar, #2, #3, and #5 gave him good experience and helped channel him into the right career. For most of us, however, a law degree means that we'll be looking for a job practicing the law. And there is a bewildering variety of experiences you can have. Arvin's experience is hardly typical - most law review people are immersed in a culture that a.) demands most of their free time; and b.) encourages spending the rest of your time earning high grades. If you want to graduate law school with no idea of what you might want to do, except go to a firm and do "appellate work," whatever that is, having talked primarily to law professors and people aspiring to be law professors for most of your time in law school, law review is the way to go.


That said, #1 is very, very, important. Extremely important. Your grades will not stay with you long after law school. Your work on other journals, your lead part in the law school play, and your hours playing IM basketball will not stay on your resume long after law school. Law review will. It is a credential that will identify you as an outstanding mind for the rest of your career.

Unless you go to a top, top law school, law review is not something you should pass up. (Exception: if you 1) have no academic or appellate interests; 2) are a highly-skilled networker, 3) you plan to practice in the area where you attend law school, *and* 4) you or your school can create good opportunities for you to get out into the legal, judicial and/or business community and start to make a name for yourself while you're in school - do that instead.)

But don't kid yourself. Unless you are academically-minded or plan a career in scholarship (did you ask for Eugene's book for Hanukkah?), #1 is the reason you're doing law review. And at many, if not most schools, it is a culture that will suck you in -- no matter how good their intentions to simply "belong" and minimize their law review workload, few succeed in escaping the law review vacuum.

But don't kid yourself - it is a credentialing exercise, and
5.3.2006 11:16pm
Obviously, law review would have taught me to better edit my comment above :)
5.3.2006 11:17pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
My brother was on the Syracuse Law Review. I went to Temple. When I told him I wasn't even go to try out for Temple's Law Review, he wanted to kill.

I didn't try out for it. I just had no interest and didn't want the extra work.

Being on law review probably would have helped with my desire to be a better writer and able to produce publishable work. But that desire didn't come until a few years after I graduated law school.

The fact that I wasn't on law review meant absolutely nothing to the full time community college teaching position job I now hold.

If I wanted to teach in a law school (not a likely career prospect for me) or one day move to a 4-year college or (non law school) graduate program (perhaps something I might pursue down the road, who knows?) then the absence of a law review credential might hurt.
5.3.2006 11:41pm
Adam (mail):
Let's not just breeze by the workload here. There is a small but non-zero possibility that Law Review will wind up destroying your life, at least for 2L year.

Sure. But then it ends, and you have the rest of your career to use the credential. It's not like law school is going to be "fun" or relaxing in any event, and you already survived (and thrived) as a 1L if you've been invited to join.

Do it. No-brainer.
5.3.2006 11:42pm
Not trying out for law review was the best move I ever made in law school.
5.3.2006 11:51pm
almost done 2L (mail):
I cannot fathom why a person would want to be on Law Review. I don't think there is any alcohol, sex, or fun present in the journal offices at my school. Law Review is composed of some of the most boring, uptight, pompous people I have ever met. Then again, I also cannot fathom why a person would consider $135,000/year an acceptable trade-off for spending the rest of her natural life working 80+ hours a week in a climate-controlled office building surrounded by the same pompous yahoos who were on law review. Maybe I'm weird.
5.4.2006 12:24am
John Jenkins (mail):
I did it. 2L year largely sucked (boo cite-checking), but it wasn't much work as a 3L. If you can get on, get on. The credential is important for placement out of law school. After that, it probably doesn't matter much (you have a body of work afterward for people to look at, and a book of clients), but it's probably worth it to get that better placement.
5.4.2006 12:27am
A2 Reader:
I was EIC of a top 5 (OK, maybe top 10) law review several years ago. My law review experience, both as a 2L and a 3L was hands down the best part of my law school. It provided education (work process, writing and peer management) during law school and thereafter an ability to make choices about when and where I would practice that would not have been available to me had I not written on.

I am not a workaholic or a shocking brainiac. I write well, am diligent and get along with people. That will get you a long way on a journal. The work was hard, but educational, see supra, and rewarding in a "there's pleasure in a job well done" sort of way. As a law student, you rarely get to work with a broad range of peers on a common project of any import -- journals provide that opportunity. I also had feared that the journal would be staffed by the most insufferable of the insufferable; it wasn't the case at all. My peers were almost uniformly decent folks, just trying to do a good job.

Don't forget too that the learning boost from law review doesn't stop when you turn the reins over to the next Ed Board -- without LR I would have been DOA for an appellate clerkship. As it was, I got one that I considered a plum and loved it.

I say, give it a go -- it can be a meaningful experience. Really.

Your mileage may vary.
5.4.2006 12:32am
A2 reader: Oh boy, an appellate clerkship. Another great credential for your legal career. I have no doubt that LR was the highlight of your law school life... but if you had been ambitious about how you spent your time, don't you think you could have done better?

Don't you think joining the Marines would have been a better use of your time?
5.4.2006 1:30am
Randy R. (mail):
The real question is why do law schools have to have a law review? Most are worthless. They only exist so that any stupid professor's article will be published somewhere. When was the last time anyone read an actual article in a law review? When was it actually helpful in the argument of a case you were doing? And in said article, did you actually look up any of the citations to see if the author cited them correctly?

I agree with all the reasons to BE on LR -- heck I was a write on to the my school's LR. Didn't help my career at all, though. And as a credential, it's important only to those who think it's important, meaning other dweebs who think it's great. Mostly, though, I find that it's law school professors who really think its this great thing. After you become partner in a firm, though, no one cares. What they really care about is how much money you bring to the firm.
5.4.2006 2:34am
Anonymous Biglaw person:
Law review is not the be-all and end-all. Granted, I went to a top-tier law school, which in and of itself opens a lot of doors. However, I did not try for law review. Nor did I stress myself to get the top grades in my classes. I studied a reasonable amount of time, spent my free time with my wife and my friends, and graduated with a solid B average. I didn't try to clerk, either. Today, I am at a large and prestigious law firm.

In the office next door to me is a classmate of mine who did write on to law review, was on the editorial board, graduated with an extremely high average, and clerked for a prominent Circuit Court judge. Yet this person now sits less than 10 feet away from me -- a lot more work to get to the same place.

In one of my cases, we had cause to obtain local counsel. The local counsel was another classmate of mine, who also wrote on to law review, was also on the editorial board, also graduated with an extremely high GPA, and clerked for both a prominent Circuit Court judge and a Supreme Court justice.

This is not to besmirch either of my classmates, both of whom I count as good friends. They made the choices that were right for them, and I'm sure their hard work, their law review experiences, and their clerkships were all wonderful experiences for them. My point, though, is they were not experiences I wanted for myself.

Before you reflexively push yourself to go for law review, think about what you want for yourself. How do you want to spend your law school career? How do you want to spend your career after you graduate? Law review may well be the right choice for you. So may clerkship. So may pushing yourself to be the class valedictorian. But it's not necessarily so, and don't blindly follow the pack and wind up putting yourself in a situation where you've bitten off more than you can (or want to) chew.
5.4.2006 2:42am
Profs have been pushing law review on 1Ls leading up to exams (Not the best time to pitch more work on burnt out students). I'm not convinced of its universal value. For my classmates looking to academia or biglaw, sure, it seems like a great idea. I don't aspire to either of those career tracks and think I have found something more efficient to do with my time (is it five or twenty hours a week?) than bluebooking.

Pre-emptive sour grapes? Perhaps.
5.4.2006 2:45am
David M. Nieporent (www):
For my classmates looking to academia or biglaw, sure, it seems like a great idea. I don't aspire to either of those career tracks and think I have found something more efficient to do with my time (is it five or twenty hours a week?) than bluebooking.
1) There are many career paths for which law review won't make much difference. But with all due respect, you're a 1L (I assume). You don't know where your career will take you. You may find yourself doing something you didn't know you were interested in. Or you may be surprised to find that law review helps on the career path you want to take -- that it's useful for more than just biglaw and academia.

2) Something else to do with your time? If you have a father with a terminal illness and you want to spend as much time as possible at his bedside before he dies, that's one thing. If you have to work to avoid being evicted and forced to spend your 2L year living in a cardboard box in an alley, okay. Otherwise, what else could you possibly have to do that's more important than building your resume? (You may even get something out of the experience, but even if you don't, it will appear on that resume.) Are you in law school to have fun, or for your career?
5.4.2006 3:04am
CrazyTrain (mail):
law review is for suckers.
5.4.2006 4:14am
A lot of the negative comments tend to be of the "yeah, it's nice, but it's not worth the extra work." At my law school, we were required to take legal writing classes in the fall and spring. These classes were fairly time-consuming, between the citation exercises and actual writing assignments. Generally, you can take a four class per semester course load and graduate (at least I could). Thus, law review for me was simply a replacement of the legal writing courses. Although law review involved more work, it was not so significantly more than for the writing courses, and very much worth it.

Other commenters have pointed out that law review is a credential that follows you long after grades are forgotten. Check any lawyer's law firm website bio and see for yourself. So the marginal benefit of law review may not be as high for purposes of obtaining 2L summer employment (assuming membership is determined primarily by grades), the marginal benefit increases in the future. Furthermore, if you think you will have grades that are borderline law review eligible, membership on the law review may be the deciding factor in job searches, even for 2L summer.
5.4.2006 4:40am
Arvin (mail) (www):
A few more points:

1. Most people probably don't read law review articles all the way through, and those that do, probably don't look up the cites (unless they're writing their own paper or something strikes them as implausible). But they don't look them up because they trust that the Law Review that published the article already vetted it. At UCLA anyway, an article goes through extensive work before being published, with primary, secondary, and at times tertiary rounds of cite checks, as well as chief proofs. On the substantive side the paper goes through primary and secondary edits, as well as chief proofs. Mistakes are still made I'm sure, but as a reader (and an editor), you hope that all the major ones have been caught.

2. It's true that if you're not going on certain career paths, Law Review is probably not necessary. Larry H. Parker was probably not on his school's law review. But, at the end of my 1L year, I didn't know yet what I wanted to do. Turns out, I decided I wanted to work at a small firm, and that's what I'm going to do. I'm probably not going to try to teach. But if in ten, twenty years I decide I want to try? I'm sure it'll help that I can put Law Review on my resume. If I hadn't written on, I couldn't later decide to do that.

So if you're not sure and want to keep options open, you might as well try, unless you're positive you just can't handle the extra workload. On the other hand, if you think there's only a very little chance you'll want to do anything that would be helped by Law Review, and you don't think you'd have fun being on it, then there's no reason to be on it. Do Moot Court instead! ;)
5.4.2006 5:23am
I was on the Yale L.J., and if I were starting over, I wouldn't do it again.

The bulk of the work was just showing up in the library once a week and spending a couple hours cite checking. There were other people there at the same time, but there was nothing "cooperative" about the work. We all just got a few pages, did our cite checking, and left.

It probably helped me to be good at bluebooking, and that is a useful skill for clerking. But what really helped bluebooking was writing on my own. (And the Journal provided no opportunity for writing.)

Maybe the credential mattered. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten the same jobs without it. There's no way to know. If it did matter, that may just show that judges and employers are unduly swayed by resume fluff. If so, they shouldn't be, and everyone should decided whether or not to join for other, better reasons.
5.4.2006 8:53am
Debauched Sloth (mail):
Unless you have a pathological aversion to the idea of being on a journal, I agree with David N. that the most important question is what would you be doing with your time instead of law review? Adding another tenth of a point or two to your GPA? Terrible tradeoff. Moot court? Great if you enjoy it, but utterly irrelevant for credentialing. For most people, the honest answer is "more leisure time." Not that there's anything wrong with that, but don't underestimate the opportunity cost: You'll never have a chance to boost your legal credentials so much in such a short period of time as you do in law school. Final point -- being on a journal gives you the opportunity to experience long hours of detail-oriented drudgery spent working on a project of little personal interest to you in the service of someone you don't particularly care for while many of your friends are out enjoying their more abundant free time. That's a good preview of what it will be like to work in a Big Firm should you choose that route. Some people thrive in that environment, some do not. If that's a path you're considering, there's much to be said for getting a taste of it before committing yourself.
5.4.2006 9:01am
DaveK (mail):
Debauched Sloth wrote:

long hours of detail-oriented drudgery spent working on a project of little personal interest to you in the service of someone you don't particularly care for while many of your friends are out enjoying their more abundant free time.

Such vitriol! If that's your perception of either law review or your BigLaw job, don't do either.

But neither has to be that way.
5.4.2006 9:31am
Irensaga (mail):
I enjoyed working on my casenote (which got published). And I enjoyed serving on the editorial board.

But that's also because I put in the minimum amount of work required in the rest of law school. I averaged Cs and Bs largely and ranked low in my class.

For me, law school was pretty laid-back and enjoyable (except for the three or four weeks of frenzied cramming prior to finals each semester). The work on the law review was something tangible that I could be proud about.

I also took a perverse sense of pride in being one of those to "buck the trend" and "make law review" solely based on my writing skills.
5.4.2006 9:49am
Debauched Sloth (mail):
DaveK wrote:

Such vitriol! If that's your perception of either law review or your BigLaw job, don't do either.

I'm not! I do cutting-edge constitutional litigation for an outstanding public interest firm -- a job I probably couldn't have gotten without my law review and big firm experiences, both of which were extremely valuable even though they weren't all that much fun in the actual doing. That was more the point of the post.
5.4.2006 10:04am
My 2L year on law review at a state law school was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. I do agree with Prof. Volokh and some of the commenters that Law Review is valuable as a credential, but personally I think that's because LR is an easy proxy for grades and not because employers believe it has any intrinsic value.

I suggest that the primary resume value comes from being on law review as a 2L, not from any editorial position in the 3L year. I refused to be an editor and I think set foot a total of 3 times in the LR office as a 3L. Note: although mine did not, some schools will make 3L slackers (i.e., non-editors) cite-check with the 2Ls. I heartily recommend rejecting any editorial position other than Editor-in-Chief.

My job search seemed unaffected by my lack of an editorial position. One firm, a very prominent and credential conscious DC firm, did ask me: "Why are you not an editor?" I replied: "I have better things to do as a 3L with my time." They seemed satisfied with this answer and offered me a position.
5.4.2006 10:38am
Closet Libertarian:
I agree with the posts above in that the main reason to do Law Review is as a line on the resume or as a door opener. It was much easier to bring up than grades in an interview. It did open some doors for me. However, it was a ton of grunt work on top of a very busy schedule. My other grades did suffer. How much is attributable to Law Review is hard to say but my 2L grades were about half a grade lower than 1L. I think you could learn about legal writing in a more efficient manner. On the other hand, it is representative of at least some junior associate jobs.

A second point that I don't think has been raised directly is that I did not feel like we were doing a great job. We published some good articles, but I don't think most of us were qualified to judge what the best articles were. My opinion is not specific to my school. I know peer review takes too long but more faculty involvement seems necessary. Maybe 2 professors and 2 law review members assigned to each article to vote on it (in addition to the editors) and then follow through to publication.
5.4.2006 10:42am
tex (mail):
Membership on a law review sends the signal to employers that you are willing to pay your dues and work hard. Some enjoy the work, and those are individuals are even more likely to be good law firm colleagues or judicial clerks.

When people learn the demands of law review membership and respond by self-selecting OUT of the organization, the system is working perfectly.
5.4.2006 11:23am
So member of law review or board position on a secondary journal? How much would you missing out on by staying with the secondary journal after your 1L year in lieu of law review?
5.4.2006 11:35am
The credential aspect, especially as characterized by Steve, sounds a lot like hazing, honestly. And let's face it... Fraternities open doors too. Pass.

I wasn't intending to make a value judgment, for the record. I just think it helps a lot in the job market, and if you haven't noticed, jobs can be tough to come by these days. Law review means extra work, sure, but it's a worthwhile investment as long as you intend to use your law degree to practice law. A balanced life is important, but you're spending way too much money on law school to focus merely on maximizing your leisure time.

I don't think going to a top-10 school has any extra educational value whatsoever as compared to attending schools 11-30, but if those are your choices, it's pretty valuable to take the higher ranked school.

Personally, I found law review to be very worthwhile from an intellectual standpoint, but clearly that's a matter of personal taste. I think membership on a secondary journal is equally worthwhile as a matter of intellectual challenge - assuming you're into that aspect of it - but worth considerably less in the job market.

Most people who attend law school have no idea what their future career path will look like. If you're one of the lucky ones who doesn't need to worry about it, bully for you. For the rest, you can coast a long time on the time investment you make in law school.
5.4.2006 11:50am

Then again, I also cannot fathom why a person would consider $135,000/year an acceptable trade-off for spending the rest of her natural life working 80+ hours a week in a climate-controlled office building surrounded by the same pompous yahoos who were on law review.

The advantage of being on a law review is not that you get the best (or highest paying) job. Rather, being on law review means that you are more likely to get whatever job you want. For instance, a classmate of mine used her law review credentials and skills to "vacation" from law practice by taking temporary clerkships (i.e., positions created when other law clerks went on maternity leave). She spent a summer clerking in Alaska, a winter clerking in Hawaii, and then parts of the summer and fall in Washington D.C.
5.4.2006 12:05pm
Orangutan (mail):
Why waste all that time on Law Review? What'll it get you? Better still, why waste all that time studying for the bar? What's the point of passing the bar? Passing the bar certainly didn't help my career, and I wasted a whole summer studying for it! If I could do it all over again, I'd strongly recommend against taking the bar. Too much work. Who wants to be a lawyer anyway?
5.4.2006 12:09pm
Mr. Law Review (mail):
Cite checking is absolute hell and despite the fun times, I almost quit it was so unpleasant. I'm glad I didn't.

The absolute best job on a law review is Articles Editor. It may be, in retrospect, even better than editor-in-chief. I read over 100 articles in a single year... on my own schedule and wherever I chose. I breathed legal scholarship for an entire year. That's an incomparable benefit that deserves mentioning here.

Plus the alcohol, sex, and practical jokes.
5.4.2006 12:33pm
I think what the responses show are that the value of law review, and the experiences enjoyed while on law review, vary. Personally, I went to a top 20 law school, did not do law review, finished top of the class, got an appellate clerkship, and enjoyed law school while some of my friends on law review worked far more than they wanted to and saw their grades suffer accordingly. They looked, and felt, haggard at the end of law school. I felt fresh by comparison. My experiences, of course, may be unique to me. Honestly, in interviewing, the non-law review rarely came up with judges, and only occasionally with firms. I do feel, however, if you obtain a clerkship, very few partners harp on law review.
5.4.2006 12:41pm
Realist (mail):
While it seems that being on law review at a top 20 school will not significantly help your chances of getting whatever job one desires, I think the value of Law Review membership at a lower ranked school is invaluable. I go to a lower ranked school and I am on Law Review. Having this credential puts me in the running to compete for jobs with law students at top 10 schools. These are students who may be top 50% of their class at best and are not on any law journal. That being said, there is still no way I could compete with them if I was not on law review.
My point is this: if I went to a top 10 school, law review membership would be icing on the cake, but from my perspective, this credential is necessary if I want to compete with the "big boys" (and girls).
5.4.2006 12:54pm
I agree with realist. I too go to a lower tier school, and being on law review certainly has helped to open doors that might otherwise be closed to me. But yeah, if you're at a highly-ranked school it's probably nice but not necessary.

As far as the amount of work goes, it's pretty reasonable at my school. How onerous you find it also depends on how much you enjoy legal scholarship and legal writing (as an above poster pointed out). If you like both of those things, you will enjoy law review. If not, it's more of a credentialing exercise.
5.4.2006 1:27pm
almost done 2L (mail):
All the time I could have spent sourcing and citing this year I instead spent on maintaining my mental health. Actually graduating from law school will look a lot better on my resume than dropping out!

Opus, the rest of my life after law school will be like a "vacation" - I get to spend it all in Alaska and Hawaii. Actually, I am grateful that there are plenty of people willing to work big-firm jobs in NYC, Washington, Chicago and LA. More mountains for me!
5.4.2006 2:08pm
WashU2005 Grad:
I was so excited to make it on a law review at WashU in St. Louis. That quickly gave way to disappointment and more disappointment. Bluebooking profs too lazy (or stupid) to cite things even remotely correctly is demoralizing. The note was close to pointless and the hours stunk, plus firms seemed to barely care about it. Thankfully I wised up enough not to run for the editorial board. A do-nothing 3L year as an "associate editor" was a lot more refreshing. The only worthwhile think about Law Review was getting drunk at Geek Ball! I think moot court or trial team would have given me a lot more useful skills, as well as
5.4.2006 2:49pm
WashU2005 Grad:
interesting firms more than law review.
5.4.2006 2:51pm
Observer (mail):
1) Law review is a credential that people will care about many, many years after you've graduated from law school. I graduated from a top 10 law school 25 years ago and law review is still an important factor to potential employers.

2) I learned more about writing from writing a law review note than from anything else I did in college, graduate school or law school. There's nothing like writing five drafts and having each handed back with heavy comments. Not many (if any) law school professors will do that for you, but your student editor will, for free. Remember, there's no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.

3) Law review was fun (if you like the law, which I did and do). You'll make friends.

4) Law review is the Special Forces for lawyers, Ranger and Seal training rolled up into one. Yes, the time commitment is heavy; that's why only the best students are invited to join, because they can handle the load. Review members are the few and the proud. That's why law review membership carries weight far into the future.
5.4.2006 2:59pm
JohnO (mail):
I went to a top 40-50 law school was was Managing Editor of the Law Review. I think a good part of the benefit (beyond the credential) is that you see a lot of writing and that helps your own writing. In fact, I think seeing poorly-written submissions was probably more valuable than seeing well-written ones. It helped me recognize poor argument so that I would avoid the same traps.

As someone on my firm's hiring committee, I agree with the commentator above who said, rightly or wrongly, we tend to assoicate Law Review with a willingness to go above and beyond and do work that takes up more time than the credits you get (if you get them) are worth. That shows a certain drive, competitiveness, and maturity (some might say stupidity, but I go with maturity).

When I do on-campus recruiting at my law school, it is very hard for someone not on the Law Review to get a call-back or offer. Now, those at better law schools can get offers without law review, but for my alma mater, again a top 40-50ish school, we rarely consider anyone who wasn't on the top law review at the school.
5.4.2006 4:12pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
So do you think it would be as much of a credential if it wasn't only offered to the top students, observer? If any Joe Student could walk in and volunteer their editing time, do you think employers would care? And if employers didn't care, do you think anyone would volunteer?

Face it... law review is a trophy for good students that has very little to do with the experience itself. It's the fact that you made it on that counts.
5.4.2006 4:14pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Face it... law review is a trophy for good students that has very little to do with the experience itself. It's the fact that you made it on that counts.
Well, maybe. But also the fact that you were willing to do it.

If it were merely making it, then GPA would be just as useful.
5.4.2006 4:38pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Yes, as I said before, there's a hazing factor involved too.
5.4.2006 4:49pm
Debauched Sloth (mail):
Law review membership is not merely a trophy. Both the environment and the work itself tend to foster an almost obsessive focus on seemingly trivial details, like whether the second comma in a "see, e.g.," cite should be italicized. My own experience in litigation is that one cannot be too obsessive about seemingly trivial details, and anything that helps foster that obsession has potential utility. While some people are naturally detail-oriented, others of us might well find that we benefit from having it shoved down our throat for a couple of years.
5.4.2006 5:40pm
The River Temoc (mail):
As a fairly recent alumnus of a top law review, I have very mixed feelings about the whole law review experience.

Ultimately, I think the only worthwhile thing about law review (which, with apologies to Mr. Law Review from UCLA, was not exactly AMERICAN PIE: BAND CAMP) was the opportunity to write and publish scholarly work. That said, the professors I had the closest relationship with generally advised me to publish my work as full-fledged articles in other law reviews, rather than as a student note or comment in my home law review.

That was very sound advice in that I know the articles went through a vetting process and were not merely published as "affirmative action pieces" because of my affiliation with my school's law review. Nonetheless, it's not something that required law review membership to accomplish. Indeed, one of my law review colleagues made law review not through the usual write-on process, but because he had published full-fledged scholarly articles elsewhere and was invited to join on that basis.

Moreover, in some contexts, the notes and comments department can be a hinderance to publishing. One of my articles, which I originally wrote in fulfillment of my law review writing requirement, dealt with a niche topic related to international development. When the notes and comments editors evaluated it, the feedback I received was extraordinarily unhelpful and amateurish.

I think the article and notes and comments editors are well-qualified to evaluate conventional submissions related to constitutional law, because it's the one substantive area of law they understand. They're very likely to be bewildered at quantitative law and econ scholarship, articles on corporate and securities law, and so forth. (Indeed, the articles editor once handed me a submission to evaluate precisely because it contained regression analysis that had him bewildered.)

To this extent, I found the weekly law and econ seminar a vastly more rewarding intellectual exercise than law review, notwithstanding the fun of publishing. As an added bonus, the law and econ seminars brought real networking benefits: students got to meet the leading authorities in the area and offer substantive critiques of their work. That, in my view, opens vastly more doors -- and influences legal scholarship far more -- than, say, yelling at Cass Sunstein over the quality of his bluebooking.

I don't disagree with many of the points Eugene makes. Law review is an invaluable, indeed essential, credential for anyone aiming for a prestigious clerkship or legal academia. (In my own case, as much as I enjoy academia, I quickly realized that my research interests lay more in the social sciences than law, and I'm planning to do a PhD in the next couple of years.)

That said, most law students opt for different career paths, and I can easily see that time spent on alternative pursuits -- learning a foreign language, networking, etc. -- can bring more benefits than law review. I've been in private legal practice at top firms for five years now, and I can categorically say that both of these activities have opened far more doors for me than law review.

This brings me to the main flaw of Eugene's post, which is, I think, his failure to discuss the concept of opportunity cost. Do activities foregone in favor of law review offer more value than law review? Although the answer obviously varies from person to person, in many cases the answer is yes.

One of the better things I did as a 2L was to enter my campus' annual business plan competition -- ironically, with an idea I thought of shortly after the law review write-on competition. I learned a lot more from the seminars on entrepreneurship and venture capital offered as part of the competition than I did on law review.

At one of these seminars, I distinctly remember the presenter, a mid-tier venture capitalist, saying that "when you write a business plan, you should proofread it, but ultimately, no one cares if there's a comma missing on page 14." That comment made me seriously question the point of my work on the law review -- which is, as Eugene points out in his "attention to detail" point, very much about spotting the missing comma on page 14.

Building organizations and innovating is often about big-picture issues, not about being detail-oriented. (Look at David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue, who credits his entrepreneurial flair to ADD. The key to his leadership is that he's constantly evaluating new information, moving from idea to idea, developing gut reactions, and innovating in response.) Lawyers are detail-oriented people, which is why, in my opinion, the all too often lack leadership skills.

To this extent, if your career ambitions after law school involve non-legal employment, I'm particularly dubious that the opportunity costs of law review are worth it -- and I think that alternatives such as taking an exciting course, learning how to understand regression analysis, networking, language learning, and so forth, are far more productive activities.

In the end, I guess it all comes down to the individual. If you're aiming to be the next Edwin Chereminsky or Bruce Ackerman, by all means, go for law review. If you're an out-of-the-box thinker, whether in the academic world or the private sector, the choice is less clear.
5.4.2006 6:10pm
"Otherwise, what else could you possibly have to do that's more important than building your resume?"

To start, there's my family. No one's terminally ill, but we do have a new son on the way this summer. There's also a directorship of a local branch of a non-profit well respected in what I hope to be my eventual field. I have a weekly radio show on legal issues with leading local and regional practitioners as regular guests. I'm also planning to work at the clinic to gain experience, you know, being a lawyer.

Oh, yeah, and I'd like some leisure time, too.

I'm not so far out of college to be considered "non-traditional," but I have several years experience in the field I plan to enter after law school. I don't think the "You don't know what you want to do" condecension applies to me, at least not as it would to a straight-from-undergrad greenhorn. Like I said, for many people, law review is a what they need: A secret handshake that will open doors for them. I'm not one of those people and I'm very confident I never will be.
5.5.2006 3:36am