How to Write a Law Review Note Worthy of Publication: Choosing a Theme

Jonathan Burns Attorney PhotoAs some of you may know, I was a rather reluctant member of the Columbia Law Review. I hated writing my Note, and it wasn’t very good. (Shockingly enough, it wasn’t selected for publication.)

Basically, I had no idea what I was doing and had a generally bad attitude about the whole process. That’s why I’m so excited to welcome Jonathan Burns to The Girl’s Guide!

Jonathan is a 2014 graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, where he served on the Editorial Board and the Note Publication Selection Committee for the Indiana International & Comparative Law Review.

He’s here to share a series on how to publish a Law Review Note that’s worthy of publication — so you can optimize your law journal experience.

Welcome, Jonathan!

I. Introduction

Very soon, many law students will learn that they have been accepted to serve on one of their school’s law journals. These individuals should be proud of themselves and excited for this résumé-boosting opportunity.

However, they should also begin to think about the most important way to capitalize on this opportunity — writing a Note that will be chosen for publication.

This short article seeks to provide incoming law-reviewers with some guidance for writing a Note that is worthy of publication. In this regard, the most pertinent aspects to address are choosing a theme for the Note, writing the Note, and — ultimately — presenting the Note in a manner that makes it worthy of publication.

II. Choosing a Theme

Perhaps the most important aspect of a Note is its theme.

The main consideration for the theme of your Note should first and foremost be your personal interests.

It is nearly impossible for an author to disguise a genuine feeling of boredom toward the Note’s topic with a feigned interest and, thus, if you are not thoroughly fascinated with the theme, the Selection Committee will immediately realize this and quickly toss your work in the “No Publish” pile.

While your personal interest in the theme is of utmost importance, there are, however, some practical considerations that should guide your choice as well.

A good theme will be something that is current; something that pervades the dialogue in the legal community at the moment. However, keep in mind that your Note will not be judged for publication until the spring after you are accepted onto the law journal and, further, the Notes chosen for publication will not be published until the following fall or spring. Thus, your theme should not only be current, but it should include a degree of permanency such that your Note will not be obsolete by the time it is published.

Finally, most law journals require their Note candidates to undergo a full preemption check before they begin writing their Notes to determine if their theme has already been addressed by another author and, if so, require the candidate to choose a different theme.

Not surprisingly, many candidates tend to get stressed over the possibility of preemption due to the sheer volume of research which exists in libraries, legal databases, and on the internet.

From personal experience on my journal’s Note Publication Selection Committee, however, preemption was rarely a significant problem when I evaluated student Notes.

Unless you are completely plagiarizing or paraphrasing another author’s work or engaging in a very general discussion of a recent and momentous topic, I do not think preemption ever poses a significant problem when your Note goes to the Selection Committee.

Even if you choose a theme that has already been addressed by another author, your Note can still be a beneficial addition to the academic dialog of the legal community if you approach the theme from a different angle, limit your analysis to an unusual nuance, and/or offer some new insight to it.

However, you should check with your Editor in Chief before relying on this advice.

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Thanks, Jonathan! Stay tuned for the rest of the series, and leave your questions in the comments.

Jonathan G. Burns (J.D. Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, 2014; Evangel University, 2010) is the author of The Banking Sector in Post-Revolution Egypt: Is Islam the Solution?, 29 Banking and Finance Law Review 319, no. 2 (April 2014) and Introduction to Islamic Law: Principles of Civil, Criminal, and International Law under the Shari’a (JuraLaw | TellerBooks, 2013). In law school, he served on the Editorial Board and the Note Publication Selection Committee for the Indiana International & Comparative Law Review. After he sits for the Indiana bar examination in July 2014, Jonathan will begin his legal career with the international law firm Dentons in the Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia office.

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