The pointless ferocities of intellectual life shock businessmen, who kill only to eat. --Mason Cooley
Dear Ambitious 1L:
To recap slightly, over the past three days I've given you three pieces of advice on things to do before applying to law review. I've suggested that you decide what you want out of law school, find out what the job actually entails, and make sure you believe it's important. Today I'd like to close with the final two things I think you should consider in making your decision.
4. Tally up the Costs and Benefits
Only you will be able to tell whether you should apply for a journal of any kind, let alone one of the large reviews. Hopefully what this symposium has put together will help, but the best advice I can give is to talk to the people you will be following into the reviews, and get their opinions. The most important thing is to get a number of different voices. Specifically, I'd look for:
A Current Member of the Editorial Board, or One of the Outgoing Members: This would be an Articles Editor, Managing Editor, or even the Editor in Chief. They're probably rushed out of their minds this time of year -- outgoing members slightly less so -- but if you can corner one, they're the folks to ask about whether it's worthwhile. On the plus side, they've probably made the most out of their 2L law review experience, and believe the most in the organization they work for. On the other hand, remember that these are often folks who have a lot of their image/ ego/ self-worth wrapped up in the job. I've noticed something similar to Stockholm Syndrome (to use the term inappropriately) among this group, in which they have to consider the job the most inspiring thing they've done at law school. Otherwise, they've made a big mistake.
A Staff Member Who Ran for the Editorial Board and Didn't Make It: Here you may need to put a little bitterness-filtering between the information you receive and what you expect as reality, but it's worth hearing from these folks too. The fact is, not everyone makes editorial board, the process for selecting it is normally very opaque and in some ways unfair, and if what you really want is to be on the management side, you should talk to someone who made the same gamble as you and lost. Not only will you find out if it's "worth it," but you may also pick up some ideas of what to avoid next year.
A Staff Member Who Didn't Run for Editorial Board: This, by the way, is me, and we're probably a bit more cynical than most. Often, we're the folks who looked at the process, the product, and the time we put in and thought, "You know, I only get to go to law school once, and there's a lot more that I want to do with it." There are other deterrents, such as having families and children one doesn't want to put on hold. But there's a reason that 3L staff members, whatever their title at your review, probably don't have much in the way of responsibility. Having us around would often be a real morale-killer, and without the promise of any future status or prestige, there's not a lot to motivate/ threaten us with. If you're looking for the "cost" column, we'll fill it out for you.
(Speaking of which, I'd like to make a brief aside on points raised by Heidi Bond and Prof. Fleisher. Both pointed to pluses of law review having to do with "having fun, once in a while" and "making friends." These reasons, while true, seem rather weak to me. Yes, you'll make friends with the folks you work with on law review, and you'll have fun despite the Bluebooking. If you couldn't do this without 350+ hours of Bluebooking, well, my advice is probably a waste of time. One of the reasons I didn't run for an editorial position was that my social circle was gradually becoming the law review. While I like most of the folks I was working with, I really missed the time I could have spent with my old friends. Making friends is all well and good, but it's a bit insane to make them based upon proficiency on a write on. Again, not saying I didn't like my cohort, but I missed my non-law review friends something chronic this year.)
Someone Who Didn't Make/ Didn't Try For Law Review At All: As I said in my first piece, finding someone who you otherwise think is very successful, well-liked, and well-respected who wasn't on law review, and finding out how difficult/ pleasant it was for them to manage, should be an important part of your consideration.
Professors You Respect: Figure out what they did, as well. Most will have done law review, while only some will have done editorial positions. One of the reasons I didn't run for the editorial board was a straw poll of professors whose lifestyles and personalities -- not their academics or subjects -- I really respected. While there was a single exception, most of them had not run for an editorial position. It helped when I was concerned that not doing so would ruin my chances for success in the future.
That's a lot of people, especially since you're probably going into exams about now. Don't worry about it. If you're still in doubt, do the write-on, and then ask these people before you get the results. At least when that offer is made to you over the summer, you'll be able to do more than I did: say "yes" without knowing what you were doing.
5. If At All Possible, Don't Be A White Male
I hesitate to mention this, because it's only been lightly touched upon by other contributors, but given the weight that diversity policies hold these days, it's worth being explicit. Many law reviews (and certainly mine) strongly emphasize their diversity policies. I'm not going to rehash Gratz or Grutter here (and given that De Novo isn't a law review, I'm going to be rebellious and not cite the cases), or consider whether diversity is a good or bad justification. The fact is that you should endeavor to find out just how much weight your journal puts on race and sex as a factor, and include it in your considerations. This is a positive factor if you're a minority, but a negative one if you're not.
This is especially important if what you really want out of a law review is an editorial position. Take a look at the male/female ratio on your journal for the last three years, in comparison to the staff intake. (Racial data is probably more difficult to manage, although you might get a rough guess from staff or editorial board photos from prior years.) If the law review has a lower-than-equal number of, say, women who make law review but an equivalence on the editorial board, you can have a strong suggestion of the number of "slots" available for you. Depending on how positive the correlation is between your law review's diversity policy on write on and it's diversity policy for editorial board, you may end up in a situation where non-minority applicants are functionally competing for a much smaller number of editorial positions than their numbers would suggest. Not a nice thing to say, but pretty much honest. Of course, given the opaque nature of many editorial board elections, this is difficult to prove and easy to suggest, so take it as given.
Anyway, this has been a very long series of letters, Ambitious 1L. My goal, however, was to provide you with everything I would have wanted to know this time last year, be it positive or negative. I've tried to avoid the obvious question--given the chance to do it again, would I still say "yes"--because it won't be very helpful to you. Instead I've tried to give you the tools to make what is, in the end, a very important decision.
I hope that this, and the rest of the Symposium, has been useful to you in the next few weeks. Good luck in whatever your decision is.