April 20, 2005

Bond: Your Mileage May Vary

by Guest Contributor

(Heidi Bond writes Letters of Marque at the University of Michigan.)

Let's start with a caveat. I'm the still-chirpy Executive Articles Editor of the Michigan Law Review. I like this stuff; I liked Bluebooking; I liked writing my Note; I like reading articles and arguing about them and figuring out how to make Law Review work. Our previous Editorial Board, Volume 103, was a fantastic group of individuals. I respect, admire, and appreciate everything they did to make my Law Review experience fulfulling (more on this later).

That being said, you should know what you're getting into.

Citechecking: A bad reason to join Law Review

Most people do Law Review for the wrong reasons. Or, I should say, the wrong reason. That reason is, almost inevitably, the resume line. And let's face it -- the resume line is nontrivial. At a lower-ranked school, the resume line might be what gets you a firm job. At a higher-ranked school, the resume line will, all else being equal, leverage you into a more prestigious clerkship (but see here for an explanation of why being on Law Review will make things unequal).

I think that Law Review -- as an institution -- is one of the greatest travesties of legal academics. As 2Ls, we are picking scholarship to go into the top journals of academics. Some institutions rely on our decisions, to some extent, to make tenure decisions. This is horrific. And, if you think about it, it's kind of an outrage to take the brightest 2Ls in a school (if that's really what we are, which I
don't insist on) and stick them in the library checking commas. For many many hours. On end. Without pay.

That being said, while it's absolutely ridiculous to give 2Ls the job of choosing legal scholarship, if some 2Ls are going to do it, I wanted to be one of them.

And that, I think, is the reason to want to be on Law Review. Nobody really wants to citecheck. And it's really ridiculous to say, "Here you are, new Law Review members, you were all the cream of our writing competition crop. Now you will spend the rest of the semester doing what a retarded monkey can do." Citechecking is the application of time and red pencil to a manuscript. There's no magic there.

So if you say, "Gee, I want to be on Law Review because I want to citecheck," then check yourself into a mental institution, not Law Review.

The Resume Line: A Second Bad Reason?

During my interviews with firms, I basically got the impression that they wouldn't have cared if I was on Law Review. Your mileage may vary at lower-ranked schools. At Michigan, grades mattered, and that was basically that. Law Review was of less interest to potential employers than the fact that I could fold an origami stegosaurus. They just wanted things to talk about, and if you gave it to them without making them feel uncomfortable they liked you and they gave you an offer and that was that.

I have no knowledge of clerkships, and no real way to test the hypothesis. Because our Law Review procedure selects, in minor part, for grades and writing ability, and because clerkships also select, in maybe less minor part, for grades and writing ability, it's hard to know whether the resume line made a difference, or the substantive qualities that got you on Law Review in the first place make a difference. Certainly there are judges that say "Law Review required" on their list of criteria here. So it seems likely that it would help with clerkships. But as has been pointed out previously in this symposium, it's not altogether unlikely that you could be a stronger applicant without the Law Review time commitment. Heck, I'd be willing to bet that I could have gotten a better grade in one of my classes last semester without Law Review's interference.

One Good Reason: Editorial Board

I mentioned earlier how horrific it is that we, second year law students, are evaluating legal scholarship. That being said, if some second year law students are going to do this, I want to be one of them. In the last two months, I have seen a dizzying amount of legal scholarship. I've read papers that have fleshed out a seminar paper; I've read papers that made me think about things I had never thought before. And I've been forced to talk about them with fellow students, formulate opinions, argue back and forth, and figure out what makes a good article, what makes a good volume (it's not the same thing as a collection of good articles), and where we think that legal scholarship and the Michigan Law Review will go.

It's a really fascinating job, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences in what has been, for me, an extraordinarily rewarding law school career.

As far as I can see it, the deal we make with the devil is that we get extraordinary responsibility -- the responsibility of evaluating legal scholarship -- in exchange for dealing with the bother of cite-checking. One excellent reason to do Law Review, in my mind, is to get into the substantive Ed Board positions.

Another Good Reason: Writing a Note

The other thing you get to do -- ahem, have to do -- when you're on Law Review, is write a student Note. As far as I can tell, writing a student note is either one of two things:

Sometimes, it is both. If you want to be an academic, writing a Note -- and publishing it in a journal that gives you street cred -- goes a long way. If you want a clerkship, publishing a Note will matter. Writing a Note also prepares you to do other things -- like write seminar papers -- in a much more organized fashion.

You do not need to be on Law Review to write a Note. However, the people I know who have a chance at publication while in Law School have all been on journals with strict Note requirements, or have had external deadlines set (e.g., they're writing on to Law Review).

And people who intended to write Notes, and didn't apply to Law Review so that they'd have more time to write a Note? Yep; they played more videogames instead. If you're a self-motivated person, who doesn't need external deadlines, you probably don't need to be on Law Review. If you're not, make the push.

One Final Reason: Something I didn't Consider

When I started Law Review, I thought I wanted to be on Ed Board and write a Note. Law Review has really helped me in one last way: friends. Believe it or not, my taskmasters on the previous Ed Board turned into friends. Those friends are a year ahead of me; they have navigated the clerkship process, and have been willing to talk to me about their experiences for hours at end.

Sometimes, law school is short on mentorship, and long on isolation. Law Review reversed that process for me. I mentioned earlier that the Volume 103 board was an amazing group of people; I meant it. They made my life so much easier by answering specific questions when career services wouldn't. I didn't even realize I needed advice and help from people in the class above me. Now that I have it, I can't imagine what I'd be thinking without it.

In sum, there is no magic in Law Review. There is only hard work. But that hard work can be very, very rewarding, particularly if the people you are working with are reasonable, hard-working, engaging, intelligent people. Law Review's been good to me, and I wouldn't trade it for any other experience in law school.

Your mileage may vary.

(See also Heidi's advice on how to apply to law review.)

April 20, 2005 11:49 AM | TrackBack

I agree with most of the substance of this post, except for the editorial board part. My 2L year taught me a bit about academic scholarship, made me much more attentive to details in my own writing, expanded my circle of friends, and gave me a place to get my note published.

Sticking around to be on the editorial board for my 3L year was the worst decision I've made in law school. Although I've become closer to the people on the board and gone to some cool parties, most of these same people were my friends to begin with. As much as I've enjoyed spending time with these people, these benefits are far outweighed by massive drain on my time going over the cite-checking of the 2Ls, spending hours looking over a narcissistic author's work just to be absolutely certain that no commas are improperly italicized, and otherwise dealing with the negative aspects of sticking around.

I add up all of the hours I've spent with red pens and highlighters this year, think of all of the better uses to which I could have put those hours, and it's depressing.

1Ls, do whatever you can to get on Law Review 2L year, give your note everything you've got, and then cut yourself loose for your 3L year before the damn thing sucks you in. You'll still have your resume line, your publication opportunity, and your friends, and you'll actually have time to see those friends (or write another thing to publish, or improve your performance in your courses, or do something with your time that doesn't involve the law school).

-Bitter, angry, and no one to blame but myself

Posted by: TO at April 20, 2005 12:54 PM
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