With the end of 1L year comes one of the next steps on the path to lawyerhood: the opportunity to write onto your school’s law review or a secondary journal. Journal membership is a resume item that many employers look for—not because it’s a rite of passage, but because it shows you’ve had the opportunity to further hone your legal research and writing skills.
Write-on competitions typically include two components: editing and writing. In the editing portion, you will demonstrate your knowledge of The Bluebook to show that you can catch even the most nuanced of errors. In the writing portion, you’ll be given a set of materials that you will use to write a case comment. These two components align with what you’ll be doing as a journal member: editing pieces written by academics and practitioners for publication in the journal, and writing your own comment or note for potential publication.
Writing onto a journal isn’t necessarily a walk in the park, but the payoff is worth it—and we have a few tips for making the process go as smoothly and successfully as possible.
Get familiar with The Bluebook beforehand.
If you haven’t yet, you will probably come to develop a love-hate relationship with The Bluebook and all its rules. A good portion of the write-on competition is dedicated to uncovering your ability to follow and apply these rules no matter how minute or arbitrary they may seem. (Watch out for those italicized commas. …). To prepare, you should familiarize yourself with the different sections of The Bluebook before write-on begins. If you’re feeling extra motivated, adding color-coded tabs is a good way to make the book easier to navigate. Or consider using the online version of the book (if allowed) for easier searching. Exposure to the rules before write-on will help you target what to look for. And once write-on begins, you’ll appreciate any amount of time you can save by not flipping aimlessly through The Bluebook.
Read the instructions carefully.
Attention to detail is a crucial skill for a law review/journal staff member, so don’t miss low-hanging fruit by not following instructions to a T. While specific instructions vary by school and journal, you will be given particulars for things like formatting, editing marks, page limits, method of submission, and more. Before you start anything, read the instructions all the way through, read them again, and then refer to them while you work. And before you finally submit, read all of the instructions again to make sure you didn’t forget any details. With many near-identical submissions to pore through, graders will look at whether you followed instructions as an easy way to distinguish submissions.
Review all materials before writing anything.
Before you type a single word, it’s important to get familiar with the materials you’ve been given—this makes it much easier to write a well-thought-out, organized piece that includes as many of the resources as possible. First, read through everything and take notes, highlight, or use stickers to mark it up. Then, create an outline to organize your thoughts and plug in what you flagged during your read-through. When it’s finally time to write, keep a couple of things in mind. First, if your school has a closed-universe rule, be careful to only use the resources given to you—don’t conduct extra research. The graders want to see what you can do with the material you have been given. Second, don’t spend too much time trying to craft the world’s most unique argument. Your goal is to write something that makes sense and is reasonably supported by the sources—not to create a new area of jurisprudence.
Proofread many, many times.
Your ultimate goal is to submit materials that are as close to perfect as possible, so it goes without saying that you’ll need to proofread your work—but don’t just do it once. Reserve time to proofread multiple times throughout the process, and switch up your focus each time you review your work. During the first run-through, you might just look at the body of your text for grammatical errors; the second time, you might just look at footnotes. If time allows, you should plan for a final proofread after you’ve taken a few hours or even a day away from the materials. With fresh eyes, you’re more likely to catch any last mistakes.
Don’t start at the last minute.
The write-on process takes time, so if you’re given a week to complete your submission, there’s a reason for that. I know it’s hard to find motivation after a grueling semester and the return of nice weather (trust me, as a transfer student I completed two write-ons, so I feel your pain)—but it’s not worth the stress of trying to complete everything in a day or two. Accept that it will take time and plan accordingly. You can even treat write-on like a full-time job and set regular hours for yourself each day.
While it may sound daunting now, the write-on competition will be one of those times in your life you look back on fondly ... once you’re done. For now, keep grinding, and plan for some well-deserved downtime after you’ve submitted your application.
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