(Amber Taylor is a 3L Class Maledictorian at Harvard Law School.)
So you attacked the write-on competition with gusto, but somehow you weren't admitted to the elite. You're disappointed, certainly, but another option beckons. You can work on a specialty journal. There may be a few different ones; maybe you get to choose which one you want. If so, choose wisely. You'll be immersed in minutiae for the next two years, so make sure itís not a field you find terribly dull. If thereís not a specialty journal that appeals, do something else. Take clinical courses. Conduct independent research. Write the Great American Law Review Article (many journals accept submissions from recent graduates, clerks, and practitioners). If your heart's not in it, walk away.
But you don't walk away. You join a specialty journal and start working your way up the masthead. What will you encounter as an editor for a specialty journal?
First of all, you'll be working a lot less than the Law Review types. Many specialty journals publish only once per year. This means you'll probably have much more time to finish your assignments (and a more flexible schedule) than those on Law Review. This does not mean, however, that you can afford to turn in things late. We have deadlines, printing schedules, and the like too.
I've noticed that most specialty journal editors take their responsibilities far less seriously than the Law Review people take theirs. Maybe this is because LR has some form of secret discipline involving peanut butter and toothbrushes, or maybe it's because people who should have walked away did not. I hate to belabor a point that most honorable people should have internalized in grade school, but if you take on a responsibility, you must follow through. Yes, outside pressures manifest themselves -- classes, interviews -- but if you have promised to do something, you should do it, even if it's "only" journal work. Do not disappear for weeks with an article and refuse to answer your phone. Do not email the EIC and tell him you can't complete your assignment next week because you've decided to take a jaunt to another continent. (Both true stories!) Our work is important, and our success depends on your commitment.
In addition to flaky editors, you'll probably run into some flaky authors: authors who "stet" every change, authors who disappear for weeks on end at a crucial point in the editorial process, authors who clearly submitted their piece to every journal with the word "law" in the title regardless of the topic. There's nothing you can do about this. Learn to enjoy the humorous aspects of the situation. By the way, most professors to whom you make publication offers will bolt if they get a positive response from any halfway decent Law Review. This can be frustrating, but they don't want to be ghettoized in specialty journals forever. Unless your journal is the preeminent one in its field, get used to this.
You're going to get to know the Bluebook. This will serve you well in summer jobs -- you'd be surprised how many partners care about comma placement and proper abbreviations. But the Bluebook's not always clear. When in doubt, run a Westlaw search of whatever Law Review you respect and see how they resolved the ambiguity. Half the time they won't have consistent citation format either. (Feet of clay! Feet of clay!)
There's a lot of heartache involved in working on a specialty journal. It's not for everyone. But getting the chance to work with brilliant authors on great pieces of legal scholarship you care about while not spending 40 hours a week in a Law Review office can make it all worthwhile.