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.)