Journal or Not: Use Research and Writing to Your Advantage

Writing and editing for a law school journal is a great way to hone legal research and academic writing skills. But it’s also a huge time commitment that at times can bore you out of your mind. Whether or not you are on a journal, learn to leverage the legal research and writing opportunities available to you to your advantage.

Law journal editorial board selections were announced this week at my school, making for some very happy and some very disappointed students. This got me thinking about the value of writing for or editing a law school journal, considering the hefty time commitment involved. Here are some factors to consider when you are deciding whether or to “write on,” along with some students’ suggestions for why it is, or maybe isn’t always, useful for getting a job.

Benefits of Joining a Journal

  • You will gain solid legal research and writing experience. This benefit can’t be underplayed. Several students I asked about their journal experiences said they were glad just to have “a line on the résumé,” but your comfort with tackling in-depth legal issues and picking apart others’ work (or at least their citations) will serve you in any type of legal practice. Employers look at journal experience and see prima facie evidence of good research and writing skills.
  • You’ll get some academic credit. Maybe just an hour a semester, maybe a maximum of so few that you end up doing it for nothing at the end, but at least the school should recognize your efforts with a bit of (albeit ungraded) credit for your transcript.
  • You will be able to Bluebook in your sleep. Seriously, the standardized legal citation format will haunt you, and not always in a bad way.
  • You won’t shy away from long, tedious, detail-driven work. Because that’s pretty much what working on a journal is all about. And this is what attorneys do. (I hope you realize that by now, if not, please hurry and read this post about why law school right now is a bad idea .)
  • You’ll have mentors, and friends. Upper-level students will help you, support you, cajole you, and probably take you out for drinks or at least give you pizza on several occasions. You’ll also have the chance to develop relationships with your faculty advisors and other journal alums.
  • You might get published. And getting a student note published can be a big, awesome, ice-breaking, résumé enhancing nugget of gold.

Disadvantages of Joining a Journal

  • You will say goodbye to sleep. And dinner at dinner time. And reading for class. And your eyesight. When it’s authority check crunch-time, there is no letting up, and it’s all too easy to let the journal take over your life.
  • It might not give you much academic credit. Be sure you are very clear before you apply or write on about the ratio of time committed for credit received. Of course, some is better than none, and many of the benefits are wholly unrelated to the fact that you receive credit for your work.
  • You may gain similar experience without the mandatory time-suck of journal work. For instance, researching and writing as a professor’s assistant, and doing independent, faculty-supervised research projects can give you the research, writing, and mentorship benefits similar to what a journal can provide.
  • You might not be able to get on. The write-on competition at many schools is extremely tough. A woman in the top 5% of our class grade-wise wrote on and wasn’t selected. She’d spent almost a week on the applications.

Either Way, Learn Research and Writing!

The takehome message here is that research and writing, acute attention to detail, and an ability to Bluebook even when your eyes are bleeding are key lawyering skills. One way or another, you need to acquire these skills in law school and be willing to showcase them to potential employers.

What Lawyers and Law Students Say About Joining a Journal

@codycorley said, “I started searching the internet and looked at a LOT of attorney profiles…the one constant I found was that most of them participated on some type of journal.  This told me a couple of things: (1) a large population of local attorneys were compelled to be on a journal (for whatever reason…) and (2) employers valued that experience enough that they made room for the “law journal credential” to be listed on their website….they were showcasing this experience to their prospective client pool. So, against my best judgment at the time, I accepted an invitation to a journal so that I could have that “one-liner” worth of experience to put on my resume.
In hindsight, however, the journal has been a great experience for me.  Some of the grunt work sucks, but the people are great and my Bluebooking skills have really sharpened up.  Due to my full-time work schedule, I haven’t been through a lot of interviews related to legal employment, but the people I’m networking with alwaysask if I’m on a journal.  My guess is participating on a journal tells them one of two things: either you had a good GPA that allowed you to “grade” on to the journal (automatic invitation) or you took the initiative to participate in the writing competition and were selected from a large pool of candidates due to your writing skills.  Either way, its impressive to an employer, or so it appears to be!

My cousin, a newly-minted New York attorney, said, “Generally, from what I gathered about journals/journal people is that for the most part, it’s a line on your résumé. Executive Editor looks better than Associate Member. However, there are two areas that I think it does help: 1) Legal academic work and 2) clerkships. Having more experience and responsibilities in regard to research, writing and editing is never a bad thing, and judges and academics like that. Also, a lot of the time, people who view your resume will just assume you are good at those three things just by your participation and progress on a journal.”

@rogueclown said, “I graduated in ’08. Didn’t do a journal…I wasn’t interested in academic writing, and spending all that time on something that bored me. I got the firm job I wanted at the time, sans law review.”

A recent Iowa Law grad said, “I did journal because researching/writing is far more tolerable for me than speaking. Prospective employers ask about my journal experience consistently (especially as I’ve interviewed for lots of clerkships). It was the best experience in law school for me, both as a writer and as an editor.”

Did you value your journal experience? Regret that you did or didn’t go for it? Would you select employees based on their journal credentials?

(Full disclosure: I’m not on a journal, nor did I attempt to “write on” to one, which is why I asked around for input for this post.)

(photo: Nic’s events)

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