(JCA transferred to a top ten law school in the Midwest and blogs at Sua Sponte.)
School policies vary on this, but I'm fairly certain that most schools have a process by which post-1Ls dissatisfied with their writing competition results (or, for that matter, transfer students) can write on to a journal. My own school's policy permits anyone, up until January of their 3L year, to earn a staff position on any of our journals by completing a comment that meets the official content
standards. But it's worth a look all the same.
Figure: You've just finished your writing competition, and you didn't make the journal you were hoping for. Maybe it was Law Review. Or maybe you aspired to a particularly fascinating topical journal. Either way, your only option now is to write on. Should you do it?
Here are the Sua Sponte Top Ten Reasons Why You Should:
10. You want to be on that journal. Why should an unsatisfactory showing in the writing competition stop you? Plan B is right here in front of you, jumping up and down and waving.
9. If you have the time to do a journal, you have the time to write on. I won't lie: it takes a ton of time to write on. My own write-on campaign required nearly a hundred hours of research, three stages of proposals at two drafts apiece, and four drafts of the actual comment (which wound up being 48 pages long) before I was accepted for membership. But this is work you'd be doing anyway as a journal staffer, and once you write on, it's not as though you
need to repeat it.
8. Editorial positions are frequently open to write-on staffers. If your goal is to gain editorial experience, or even just the prestige of a board position (and let's be honest, the credential value of such things is a nontrivial motivator), chances are you can reach it just as well as a write-on staffer as you
could as a traditional one.
7. Journal work does not suck. It can be tedious, it can be boring, it can seem like a low payoff for a big investment. But so can any other aspect of law school. If law school holds your interest, a journal probably will too. Even the dullest citecheck will usually lead to you learning something you hadn't previously known. And most of the staff workload is easier than writing on in the first place, so you'll have already done the hard part.
6. Journals can be social hubs. Especially if you're in a large law school, joining a journal (whether Law Review or a topic-focused journal) can hook you in to a circle of people who share many of your interests and are happy to discuss them at the journal-funded happy hours.
5. The experience matters. A previous symposium participant commented that the time you spend on your journal could be better spent networking and career-prospecting. This is not entirely true. You should definitely network and pursue all the connections you can offline, but journal experience will make the networking that much easier. It's solid evidence of your capabilities, something that any potential employer evaluating you will appreciate.
4. You'd like to be published. A published comment is a staple for future professors, valuable if you're applying for clerkships, and a positive feature on any other resume. Your note topic will be a good icebreaker in any interview, particularly if you've written on something related to your practice interests (but even if you just share a laugh over how obscure it was).
3. You'll gain entry into another alumni network. The journal itself is good for networking: people who have worked on it before will appreciate your connection to it, and your journalmates of today will be your own insta-network after graduation. Don't worry about not having made it on the "usual way" impacting your role on the journal: once you're on, there's no distinction made between traditional and write-on staff.
2. The people who will be your colleagues. Topical journals may attract some of the most committed activists you'll ever meet. Your fellow Law Review staffers may include some future Supreme Court clerks among their number. Yes, you may meet and befriend these folks anyway outside the journal. But having the journal in common creates another bond whose value stays firm over time.
1. You don't get a do-over in law school. Much of the non-journal activity on which you could spend your time in school will still be an option once you graduate. But this is your one shot to write onto a journal, an experience you'll keep for the rest of your life. If you don't want this, if you wouldn't enjoy it, then it could well be worth skipping. But if this is really something you want to
try, now is the time to do it. Don't miss out on it just because the writing competition didn't work out the way you'd hoped. With enough focus and determination, there's always a way up the mountain.