Book Review of Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers

Published in ABA Student Lawyer, Oct. 2003, at 14

By Prof. Richard Bales


     Most students go through law school without writing much more than a series of timed exams, a handful of legal writing exercises, and one or two upper-division seminar papers.  This is nuts.  Lawyers write.  You should too.  Academic Legal Writing can show you how.

     Why is writing so important?  First, writing is perfect practice for practice.  All lawyers write, be it contracts, letters, memoranda, or motions.  The better writer usually is the better lawyer.

      Second, writing offers an alternative chance to shine.  Not everyone excels at exams.  Most students don't make the top 10 percent.  Fewer still are on law review or winners of moot court competitions.  Yet even a student with low grades can impress and employer with a published law review article.  Even a well-researched and -written seminar paper will open doors.

     Third, writing lets you explore an area of the law you feel passionately about.  In just, the last year, students at my school wrote (and published) articles on HIV and the Americans Disabilities Act, ADA defenses, pro se litigation, civil contempt, and pleading standards in civil rights cases.  If you're interested in a topic that's not covered in a course, create your own independent study.

     Fourth, writing on a specialized topic makes you an instant authority on that topic.  Clients love to know their lawyer has substantive expertise.  This makes you more marketable to law firms.

     So how do you do it?  Reading Academic Legal Writing can help.  Author Eugene Volokh is a constitutional law professor at UCLA who has written a bundle of high-profile law review articles.  Although the book does contain a chapter on legal-writing mechanics, this isn't a rehash of first-year legal-writing materials.  Instead, the book is designed for students who are writing law review articles and notes, advanced-level seminar papers, and especially articles designed for external publication.

     This is what makes Academic Legal Writing unique.  Not only does the book describe how to write a paper worthy of publication (and therefore, almost by definition worthy of an A in a seminar class), but it also describes how to get your paper published.

     This isn't as difficult as you might imagine.  Many law journals are hungry for articles.  The trick is to create an article on a novel but interesting topic, that is well written and thoroughly researched, and that makes a real (even if incremental) contribution to the legal literature.

     But writing a publishable article is only the first step.  The second step is to market the article to law reviews and publishers.  This includes writing a persuasive cover letter, sending the article to multiple journals (at least most of the time), and jockeying for the best possible placement of the article.  The final steps involve working with the publisher during the editing process and publicizing the article after it's published.

     Academic Legal Writing provides step-by-step instructions on how to do all of this.  But perhaps the book's most important contribution is its underlying message that ambitious law students can publish outside their schools' law reviews.

     Law Students often make significant contributions to the legal literature.  Doing so represents an important service to the legal community, and it's a great way to begin a professional career.


     Richard Bales is a professor at Northern Kentucky University College of Law.