April 21, 2005

Goldman: Expected Costs and an Unexpected Benefit

by Guest Contributor

(Eric Goldman is an Assistant Professor at Marquette University Law School. He blogs on Tech & Marketing as well as personal observations.)

Like some of the other commentators, I approach the decision to join law review on a simple cost-benefit basis. Christine Hurt offers her thoughts on the benefits, but let's drill down on the costs some more.

First, there's the question of time. Law review is time-consuming. Anonymous talks about 350 hours of time, a decent enough estimate. However, I think the more useful inquiry is the quality of those hours. From my perspective, this is the crux of the dilemma about joining law review. Bottom line: many functions of a law review are extremely painful.

For example, consider cite-checking. Validating/ confirming information is never as much fun as creating something, but doing it while mastering the arcanity and illogic of the BlueBook makes the process even worse. BlueBooking is also unsatisfying -- no one, not even the BlueBook authors, could ever cite-check an article perfectly, so we also feel like failures. Cite-checking and editing also is pervaded by a sense of irrelevancy; no one really cares if you use the proper citation format for the Law Reports of the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa (see T.3, page 299), and once you realize that, the entire process becomes overwhelmingly pointless.

As a result, you should consider the quality of the hours, not just the quantity. For me, the hours spent cite-checking and editing on law review rank at the very top of some dubious lists: the list of hours of my life that I derived the least enjoyment from, the list of hours I wish I could have back, and the list of hours I would reallocate to things that would make me happier.

Alternatively, you can think about law review hours in terms of opportunity cost. Allocating ~350 hours a year to law review is a major commitment. Consider if you could invest 700 hours in your law school career in other activities that would build your skill set, add to your resume, make more of a difference to the world and be more enjoyable.

For example, let's assume you want to become a law professor. Law review membership is one credentialing tool that potential hiring schools use to sort candidates. However, there are other tools, such as publications. So instead of investing 700 hours in law review, you could invest those hours in writing a law review article. Better yet, write two articles: one using the time you would have spent to write a paper for law review, and the other using the time you spend on cite-checking or editing someone else's article. A student who writes and publishes two good law review papers while in law school will stand out in any crowd.

Whether measured on the raw utility of law review time, or on the opportunity cost, law review fares poorly. Despite that, I advocate law review membership for some interested candidates based on my own personal experience, where my participation in law review was career- and life-altering. Let me explain.

In law school, I hated writing papers. They took substantially more time than studying for a final exam, so I made the rational choice not to take any classes that required me to write a paper (this was before the ABA instituted a seminar requirement). However, I had to write a paper as part of my obligations for law review. During my research, I discovered a then-recent case called Cubby v. CompuServe, which dealt with an online service provider's liability for content that it hosted. Based on this case, I chose to write my law review article on online liability issues, and during that process, in 1992 I made the decision to become an Internet lawyer--a decision that proved to be prescient given the coming dot com boom.

Had I not written the paper and gotten turned on to Internet law, who knows where my career would have taken me. Because of the paper, I got pulled into a topic that became the centerpiece of my future career. Because of this effect on my career and life, in my case the results of being on law review overshadowed its torturous aspects.

April 21, 2005 02:54 AM | TrackBack

Ironically, you suggest writing a law review article instead of being being on law review as a better use of time if your goal is being a law professor. However, you learned how to write a law review article by being on law review. Hmmmm.

Posted by: Christine Hurt at April 22, 2005 02:26 PM

Well, to be clear, I didn't *learn* how to write a law review article from being on law review. To be precise, unlike many of the commentators in this symposium who claim otherwise, I learned virtually nothing about how to write anything (law review articles or anything else) from my law review experience. (Except, of course, how much it sucks to edit turgid law review prose). No one taught me how to write a law review article; I got virtually zero help from my comments editor or my faculty advisor. So I wouldn't recommend joining law review with the expectation that you'll learn the black art of writing law review articles. You'll do much better reading Volokh's Academic Legal Writing (which you should read whether you're on law review or not).

Instead, for me, the only lasting benefit of law review is that it forced me to write a law review article, which proved to have significant career and personal benefits, and I would have avoided writing such an article otherwise.

Posted by: Eric Goldman at April 22, 2005 07:32 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Sitting in Review
Armen (e-mail) #
PG (e-mail) #
Craig Konnoth (e-mail) #
About Us
Senior Status