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)