To Join or Not to Join (Law Review): That Was the Question

There’s no way around it: law school is arduous and stressful, even without law review. An average law student can expect to spend around 40 hours a week preparing for and attending class, and the average law review member can expect to add another 20 hours a week on top of that. If you’re one of the bold who would serve in a leadership capacity (editor in chief, senior editor, etc.), expect to add another 10-20 hours a week.

So why did I do it? It is not necessarily intuitive why someone would want to voluntarily subject themselves to such conditions, but serving as a member of law review comes with a lot of practical benefits.

Marcus Nemeth ’19

Being part of law review has become an increasingly useful experience for law students looking to secure big law jobs. If you plan on clerking for a judge, law review carries a strong hiring preference too. But the decision to become a member of law review (if you’re one of the fortunate students to have such an opportunity) should be considered very carefully. It is not for everyone, and it may not be necessary for the specific job you want to pursue, so choose wisely before you commit to two years of solitude. You don’t want to find yourself in an already stressful position that could potentially not only lower your GPA, but jeopardize your friendships.

Typically, the top students in the class are invited to “grade on” to law review–the assumption being that you have written well enough in your law school exams to be distinguished as worthy writer–without any further hurdles to jump through. If you’re not within the top 5-10% of your class, you can “write on” to law review. For Boston College Law Review, that consists of a multi-dimensional writing competition immediately following your last 1L exam of the first year. The first part of the writing competition consists of sample law review articles and their corresponding footnotes, to which you are asked to provide the correct citation and an explanation of why a relevant rule exists. Regarding footnotes, former Yale Law professor Fred Rodell said:

“The explanatory footnote is an excuse to let the law review writer be obscure and befuddled in the body of his article and then say the same thing at the bottom of the page the way he should have said it in the first place…every legal writer is presumed to be a liar until he proves himself otherwise with a flock of footnotes.”

The next part of the writing requirement involves composing a 12-page legal memorandum based on a fact pattern and other documents surrounding a specific legal topic. You are then asked to construct an argument based on the supplied information. The final part of the writing assignment is a personal statement, similar to a law school admission essay.

The writing competition is deliberately ill-timed to be right after the last exam of the year for a number of reasons: it weeds out those who aren’t that serious (because who wants to delay their summer break a single moment longer than necessary); it requires a quick turnaround with a lot of material (well over 20 pages of written work when all is said and done), and thus weeds out those who don’t work well with tight deadlines; it gives students a window to complete the competition before summer jobs begin; and it gives the law review faculty and staff enough time to judge the competition and determine the incoming class. The latter is important to the output for law review so case assignments can be passed down to the new staff writers, marking the beginning of a new year to the law review cycle.

Your first legal writing class will quickly teach you that legal writing is not your run-of-the-mill typical academic writing. It is a very dull, straightforward, and tedious approach that has an unusually rigid form. You will often find yourself repeating the same thing over and over, but forget the old ‘busting out the thesaurus’ trick – repetition is embraced. In 1936, Fred Rodell again eerily echoed current critiques about legal writing when he said:

“It does not matter that even in the comparatively rare instances when people read to be informed, they like a dash of pepper or a dash of salt along with their information. They won’t get any seasoning if the law reviews can help it. The law reviews would rather be dignified and ignored.”

Most people – even social science and English majors who more frequently encountered academic articles – haven’t been exposed to legal writing, so possessing and honing this kind of skillset is a valuable and unique asset that can set you apart from your classmates in the job market. In addition to helping you land an interview during the OCI process, law review can even be the reason you’re selected for the job.

Being a member on law review comes with a plethora of benefits. For starters, it can give you an avenue to dive deep into a specifically focused topic to strengthen your understanding of the law. You can write about a topic that you enjoy and that interests you, while simultaneously gaining school credit for it. If your article or comment is distinguishable from the rest of the pack, you could even get published. Law review can teach you things that you don’t learn in classes and seminars, like how to properly cite according to Bluebook rules.

A big benefit of Boston College Law Review in particular is that you do not have to select a law journal that is focused on one area of jurisprudence. Last year BCLR consolidated all of the specialty journals (i.e. international law, human rights law, immigration law, etc.) to be under one general law review umbrella, so staff writers are now encouraged to write on (almost) any topics that interest them. This helps avoid potentially pigeonholing staff writers to an area of law that is not personally interesting to them. As I’ve said, serving as a law review member can also bolster your job prospects. It places employers on notice that you are exactly the type of person they are looking for–an intelligent and dependable home run hitter. Serving on law review is a great indication that you were able to write well even before joining, and that you have since honed and fine-tuned your skills even further. In the clerking sphere, these skills are important because you are going to be tasked with analyzing and writing dense, lengthy opinions. In the associate sphere, writing on law review shows that you pay close attention to detail, have strong research and writing skills, and can demonstrate a high level of discipline beyond just getting good grades. For both positions, being a member of law review indicates that you’re capable of handling a demanding workload, balancing multiple cases or deals at a time, and capable of producing a pristine work product of publishable quality. As an added benefit, law review comes with small perks like extra free printing, an additional private lounge, and access to an exclusive refrigerator (like anyone would join law review for its fringe benefits).

But being on law review is not all roses and perks–there is a cost to the advantages. When contemplating if law review is for you, I recommend thinking a few years down the road in your desired legal career. Ask yourself what duties accompany the specific position you are targeting, what things you can do to achieve that position, and what things you can do to better yourself in that position. You should not join law review solely for the prestige or for the purpose of boosting your resume. This would not be worth it in the grand scheme of things, and you would be taking a spot away from someone who would cherish the position and benefit more. If law review does not seem to benefit you in either of those scenarios, then there may be a more efficient and less arduous means to that end. It may not be worth your time to devote so much attention and effort to developing the skills necessary for law review, and you may be able to figure out another way to develop such skills in a different setting. For example, for someone planning to be a litigator, another extracurricular like moot court may be a better time investment.

In all instances, joining law review is generally an agreement to work for two years as a contributing member. Not being wholly committed to the process can result in a drop to your grades and reputation, especially if you underestimate the workload and approaching deadlines. Boston College Law Review allows you the ability to either split your four credits between spring and fall semesters (two credits each), or put all four credits towards one semester. I personally opted to place all four credits in the spring semester, because the Note process is more demanding and a longer work product than the case comment (which occurs during fall semester). Law review participation comes in waves, which can make it somewhat difficult to schedule and plan ahead, especially when considering your workload for normal classes. You can be lucky and have the bulk of your responsibilities fall in the parameters of the semester when you have the least amount of schoolwork, or you can be unfortunate and have the bulk of work coincide with the demands from classes. But this can parallel the work schedule of associates at big law firms, particularly corporate associates who face the constant unpredictability of corporate clients and their demands.

For me, working as a staff writer thus far has been bittersweet to say the least, but I would be remiss to not admit that the process has benefitted me, both in securing a prestigious job and becoming a better legal writer. There is no universal answer about whether to join law review, but there undoubtedly is a right answer for you. This is a decision that will have future repercussions on both sides of the coin, and those implications need to be weighed heavily before you commit.

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