How to Publish While You Are in Law School

Guest post by Ian Scott.

“You should try to publish at least one scholarly paper during your law school experience.” This excellent advice was offered by Harvard Law School’s Dean, Martha Minow, during a student meeting.

I took this sound advice and published a paper in a business law journal while I was in law school. The publication has generated enormous rewards and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the process was much easier than I thought it would be.

Why Publish In Law School?

There are several good reasons to publish while in law school. First, you will already have to write at least one comprehensive paper during your three years at law school—so why not try to get it published. Moreover, you may be surprised at how little additional work will be required to make it publishable. Depending on your topic and area of expertise, your work may be exactly what a particular journal is looking for.

Second, some journals will publish student work, but will only publish a non-student’s work if the person is an expert in the field. As such, your status as a student can get you an opportunity and audience that you would not otherwise have.

Finally, there may be a significant cost savings associated with publication as a student because many students have the benefit of submitting their papers to as many journals as they like for free through an on-line submission vehicle called ExpressO. If you are not a student, you must pay $2.20 per journal. With hundreds of journals, this can become costly.

What Are The Benefits of Publishing?

Apart from the practical reasons for publishing while in law school, there are also several benefits. First, publication looks excellent on a resume. Moreover, if you publish, you will gain instant credibility and employers, scholarship committees and others will immediately conclude that you are able to write well. Also, a publication will help you find a job and will make you eligible for other accolades such as scholarship money, clerkship positions and praise from faculty and peers. A published work will also assist you if you desire a law professor position some day.

The development of a scholarly piece of work will also enhance your research and writing skills. As with any lengthy paper, you will have to devote a significant amount of time to research. This will not only enhance your knowledge in a particular subject area but will also force you to access various database libraries to search for relevant material. Moreover, a significant amount of time will have to be spent formatting the paper and the related citations and this focus on the detail and blue book format will help you as a lawyer.

Finally, if you publish you will put your name in print and this is a good feeling. You should be proud if you publish something and there is no better feeling than receipt of the finished product with your name boldly splashed across the cover.

How Do I Start?

The first step in the process involves selecting a topic. This sounds easy but unfortunately there is an additional step that must be done. Once you have settled on a topic, you have to conduct something called a preemption search to ensure that your topic has not been written about in the past. This does not mean that you cannot write about the same topic as others but rather means that if you do, you must make it different in some way. The preemption search process involves searching databases for similar topics and reviewing the articles to see what they have covered.

What Is The Submission Process?

Thankfully, the submission process for articles is electronic so you can easily submit your note to several journals simultaneously. The best way to make a simultaneous electronic submission is through a website called ExpressO.

ExpressO makes the submission or your article and cover letter to over 750 journals fast and easy. Best of all it could be free for students if your law school has an institutional account with ExpressO!

Once submitted, you will start to receive a number of rejections and this is normal. Even people who ultimately have their papers published in the Harvard Law Review will receive rejections from numerous other journals so do not be discouraged. It can take some journals several weeks to review a paper and make a decision as often the papers undergo several rounds of review before a decision is made and journals get thousands of requests.

You should note that when you submit your paper to a journal and they decide to publish it, they only give you a very limited amount of time to respond. When I published my paper, the journal gave me 2 days to decide. Keep in mind that if you are publishing in a top journal, they may give you as little as an hour to decide.

Once you accept their offer, you are required to sign a contract with the journal and the editing process starts. Your paper is then placed into the subcite stream and various subsciters will start to check your citations and edit your paper. Even for a good paper, the editing process is extensive. When I submitted my paper for editing, it contained 50 citations. When the editors were done with the paper it contained over 300.

What Makes A Good Submission?

There are a number of tips related to writing a good paper and getting it published.

  • Write about something you know. This could include something closely aligned to an old profession or something that you studied in college. If you are already an expert in a topic, you can mix this with legal concepts and your paper will stand out. For example, I was an investment banker prior to law school and wrote & published a paper on fair value accounting and the financial crisis. A friend who worked as an auctioneer wrote a paper on art law and a doctor friend wrote a paper on health law. This combination of your experience and the law will be very appealing to journals and makes for interesting papers.
  • A cover letter and good abstract (summary of article) are essential! When you submit your paper to a journal, these two documents may be the only thing that the editor reads and for 90% of the papers received, this alone is the basis for rejection. As such, you must use the cover letter and the abstract to market yourself and capture the reader’s attention.
  • Make sure that the paper that you submit is final and free from errors. In order to accomplish this, you should get as many people as possible to read and edit your paper. This will not only significantly reduce the amount of errors but will also alert you to areas of your paper that need work. Also, listen to their feedback!
  • Follow the journal’s instructions! This includes font size, spacing, length of article, submission timing, cover letters or anything else they say. Several good papers are not considered because they do not adhere to simple guidelines.
  • Consider joining a journal at your law school. While some journal work like cite checking may not be the most glamorous work in the world, you will get great experience and learn what makes a good article and why some are rejected.
  • Do not plagiarize! Plagiarism involves stating or summarizing the work of others without citing them. All papers have a significant amount of citations and this is normal. If you use someone else’s ideas, cite them.
  • Consider the content of your paper and perhaps submit to specialized journals. For example, my paper dealt with a business topic so I primarily submitted to business law journals.
  • Keep it simple! I was an editor on the Human Rights Journal at Harvard and many papers that the journal received were complicated and confusing. You are not writing a literary masterpiece so there is no need to use symbolism or complex metaphors. Instead, use simple plain language. Also, if your paper deals with a complex topic like finance for example, make sure that you either explain the terms you are using or simplify the language. Remember the people deciding whether or not to publish your paper are law students and are not quantitative experts or economists.

Ian Scott is a New York lawyer and blogger. He writes Law School & Bar Exam Success Tips.

(photo: Shutterstock)

  • Tudor Capusan

    Ian, very informative article. And I like that you practice what you preach: simple language that gets the point accross.
    In your experience, what are the main elements law journal editors look for when they receive an article from a candidate?

  • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

    Thank you Tudor. Regarding simple language, I recall in law school someone asking me to read his paper and I did not understand much of the language. (and it was on a topic I was very familiar with). His paper read much better after he simplified the complex terminology.

    I think many editors look for interesting topics that they feel others will read. Many submissions get bogged down in theory and are at times boring. Editors want something that motivates them to want to read on and heightens their interest. The cover letter and abstract are the place to start in terms of hooking them but the body must also be interesting.

    Thanks again.

    • http://thegirlsguidetolawschool.com/ Alison Monahan

      Some of the best advice I ever got on writing was in a research methods class in grad school: If you get to a point in a piece of writing where the language and syntax suddenly gets more complex (and you can’t understand it), it means the author doesn’t understand it, either!

      Writing clearly about complicated topics is far more difficult than it seems.

      • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

        Yes I agree fully. As most submissions are quite long, the fastest way to turn off a reader is to confuse them. This is especially the case if you are submitting to a general journal about a very technical topic. (I suppose if you are submitting to a technical journal they may understand the complicated material – but I would not count on this). Also, plain simple language is important. The other day I was reading something with a Partner at my firm where someone used the term nugatory. The partner (who also went to Harvard Law) asked me what it meant and I shrugged my shoulders.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/susangainen/ Susan Gainen

    One more reason to write and to publish as much as you can while in law school is that you can enter your papers into essay contests and make money.

    Bar associations and other organizations have essay contests (check with career services for resources).

    Should you be the lucky winner, you might be forced to rent a tux or a very fancy dress, get comped airfare and hotel accommodations so that you can attend the section’s annual meeting, sit at the head table, and have your photo taken with the leadership as the section head hands you a check for $2000.00.

    Not bad for something that’s sitting quietly on your hard drive.

  • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

    Good Point Susan. Thanks.

  • Luke Hornblower

    Like Ian, I published a scholarly paper (in my case, my law review Note) with another law school’s business law journal. With 550+ law journals in the US and countless additional bar journals, any serious law student should be able to publish. Publications do become a part of one’s permanent paper trail, however. Thus, I think it is important to really think through the arguments you put forth in your papers and not just publish for the sake of publishing.

    • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

      yes. Good point Luke. A paper has to be good and you certainly do not want a poor product following you. Generally though, if the Journal is a good one, they will weed out poor product. Also, a controversial paper could also cause problems down the line. They are things to consider for sure! Congrats on the publication!!!!

  • 4ALAW

    One of our lawyers has just completed his LLM and has been asked to publish his work I internally and has been put forward for external publication. As a law firm we have encouraged this as it shows that we have lawyers in our organisation that are positive about making an impact in the legal industry and confident about being peer-reviewed.

    Inevitably publishing works will have a positive impact on clients too as clients recognise and appreciate the added value that is brought to the table when dealing with a lawyer who has had work published

  • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

    Yes, good point and I fully agree. I have found that my firm often markets the new people on a team to the client and if the member can establish they are an expert in the field the client is much more comfortable. A publication is an excellent way to do this.

  • Phil

    Pay to submit a manuscript to a journal?? Submit to 750 of them?? Those are unheard of practices in other academic fields. I am a public management professor new to law school to expand my resume. I have a dozen scholarly articles in public administration journals and have never paid a nickle to submit one for consideration and would hold the journal in extremely poor regard if they ever asked for a fee. In that field, you are also restricted to submitting a manuscript to only one journal at a time – until the journal you submitted to rejects the manuscript, you cannot submit it elsewhere. I think that practice requires the author to submit a higher quality piece originally. And it keeps the task for the editorial board more manageable.

    This article was valuable just learning that one can shotgun an article to scores of journals hoping one sticks. I don’t like the practice, but am glad to know of it.

    • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

      Phil, Thanks for your comments. A couple of things, the online tool ExpessO does charge to submit to journals and this is an easy way to submit to many journals at the same time. A person is also free to go to the individual web pages of Journals and find out how to submit to individual journals if the Journal takes paper or email submissions. When I submitted to Journals, I picked approximately 40 that I was interested in so I found the tool very convenient. (that is, better than sending 40 separate emails & cover letters) Moreover, if your topic is general, I do not see anything wrong with submitting to several good journals. Many law reviews publish on a wide range of topics so it is VERY common for students and others to send their work to many to see if they have an interest. The decision of what a Journal will publish is not just based on the quality of your work but also on what they happen to be looking for to compliment the other articles and past volumes. I guess in a sense this is “hoping one sticks” but given you do not have any idea what a Journal is interested in and Journals will often takes weeks to get back to you, your approach of submitting to one Journal would not work well for law students.

  • 4ALAW

    Do also bear in mind the issue of copyright and assigning it appropriately. Many journals will want to know where else you have submitted. Subscription only journals are particularly careful when selecting material for publication over which are likley to hold copyright.

    • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com/ Ian

      Good point, thanks.

  • James

    One major benefit of publishing in a well-run academic journal is the chance of having your work reviewed by a professional editor. The editors that are employed at places like Carswell and Thompson (etc) are very good, and it is a real learning experience to work with one of them. I thought I was a relatively good writer until I received my first bit of feedback from one of those types. :)

    Miles beyond what you will encounter in academic writing. No professor is really all that interested in critiquing your writing style; instead, they typically look at the structure of your arguments. Editors are paid to worry about presentation.

  • http://www.lawschoolsuccesstips.blogspot.com ian

    Yes, good point as the editors have a vested interst. Professors tend to provide more content based comments while editors really polish up your work and go into detail.

  • Justin

    This is an excellent article. I’m very glad to see this information online.

    During my time in law school, I published two articles in other schools’ journals. Those “outside publications” ultimately helped me to secure my first job (a state clerkship) and my second job (a federal clerkship). The experience, both of writing and publishing, was invaluable.

    When speaking to current students about the benefits of “outside publication”, I stress several of the same points that you wrote about, above. But I also stress the need to craft a catchy title (and, in some cases, subtitles). Journal editors often slog through hundreds of submissions; having an eye-catching topic & title may help you ensure that your article is culled from the masses.

  • http://lawschoolsuccesstips.com/ ian

    Thanks Justin..good point as you really need something to catch the attention of an editor.

  • http://www.4alaw.com/business/litigation/ Terry.A

    @Justin … I fist thought you actually meant subtitles like the language options in movies but I suppose in the UK we refer to them as subheadings.

    Point being that I cannot argue against that proposition provided it is kept relevant or even titles or sayings that people are generally familiar with. So if it is an piece on up to date legislation one might use “out with the old” or “in with the new”. Or if your article refers to a former position under different laws and the new legislation amalgamated the two I don’t think there’ll be too much criticism for using a subheading such as “something borrowed” etc. so long as it can be demonstrably relevant.

  • Justin

    Terry,

    We call them subheadings in the U.S., too. I misspoke (and am sorry for any resulting confusion)!

    I think that your second paragraph is on point. Here are some other examples that I’m familiar with:
    - “Something Stinks: The Need for Environmental Regulation of Puppy Mills” (article re: regulation of puppy mill disposal of animal waste)
    - “Walking the Wire in a Wireless World: Legal and Policy Implications of Mobile Computing”
    - “Youtubing Down the Stream of Commerce: Eliminating the Express Aiming Requirement for Personal Jurisdiction in User-Generated Internet Content Cases”
    - “‘It’s Third and Eight!’ The Third Circuit Adopts an Eight Factor Test For Likelihood of Confusion in False Endorsement Claims in Facenda v. N.F.L. Films” (admittedly, this title references American football (the N.F.L.) so it may lose something in translation)

    Effectively crafted subtitles should either “play it straight” or follow the theme set forth in the initial title.

  • http://www.4alaw.com/business/litigation/ Terry.A

    Less IS More!
    Sometimes less is more particularly when what is being said can be most effectively summed using the minimum amount of words whilst attaining maximum effect.

  • Yanal

    Hello,

    I know that it has been months since the last post, but we could revive it with an observation made by my professor during my LLM.

    The professor who also encourages publishing has always warned that publication could also have negative effects. For instance, a paper which I published this year (while I am a student) could have a certain opinion, or a certain approach etc… which I may not agree with or follow in the future after years of experience as a lawyer. The professor noted that even if articles are 10 years apart, readers may still find the author contradicting himself or inconsistent or whatsoever. Ofcourse as noted above the reputable law journals would not publish a paper with no susbtance, or of poor langauge etc… So certianly no embarrasing long term impacts. I am starting to understand his point though, as I always I look at projects or essays which I have written in earlier years and I think to myself (why did I think its good at the time) this is horrible or rather could have been much better.

    So, this three publications (which are my first ones) will be published this year but I am worried about any impacts following me in my future career.

    Any thoughts?

  • Brittany

    Hi, Mr. Ian Scott. I’m an undergraduate so of course not at law school yet but I wrote a decent paper in my constitutional law class. It’s basically about the history of the economic substantive due process clause in which I briefed two cases but in essay format, and then analyzed the switch in the supreme court ideological positions. Can I still get that publish in a law journal?