How to Write a Law Review Note Worthy of Publication: Writing the Note

Jonathan Burns Attorney PhotoToday, we’re thrilled to welcome back Jonathan Burns to The Girl’s Guide for more advice on writing a law review Note that’s worth of publication. He’s here to discuss a critical topic — actually writing the Note!

Welcome, Jonathan!

While the theme of your Note is of utmost foundational importance in the publication decision process, the substance of your Note must adequately address the theme with a thorough (yet concise), clear, and relevant objective background as well as a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and in-depth subjective analysis.

But first, let’s take a moment to discuss what a law review Note is.

A law review Note is an original recommendation of policy for the legal community to consider based on the research and observations of an expert, and that expert is you (so, as previously mentioned, remember to choose a theme that is extremely interesting to you, since you will spend countless hours reading endless pages of research materials with the goal of becoming an expert).

After you become an expert, you will write your Note for the purpose of offering an original recommendation of policy for the legal community.

Next, keeping in mind the purpose of a law review Note, the following subsections will discuss the basic breakdown of the components that a Note should contain as a baseline for publication.

There are four essential elements to include:

  1. the introduction
  2. the objective portion
  3. the subjective portion
  4. the conclusion
A. Writing the Introduction

The introduction to your Note is arguably the most important section as it relates to the Selection Committee. This is your first chance to make a striking impression on the individual judging your Note and, unfortunately, many candidates fail to capitalize on this opportunity by writing a weak, vague, and confusing introduction.

In contrast, a good introduction will clearly present the theme of your Note.

Then, it will conspicuously and succinctly disclose the conclusion, which should be articulated in your subjective recommendation of policy. Finally, the introduction will pull out the main arguments supporting your subjective recommendation and both summarize and briefly discuss them.

Essentially, the reader should be able to skim the rest of your Note after reading the introduction and have a good understanding of its structure and arguments. This is not Creative Writing 101 or a literature course; thus, do not engage in foreshadowing and do not attempt to leave the reader in suspense after she reads the introduction. Mainly, the introduction should represent about five percent of your whole Note.

B. Writing the Objective Portion

After preparing the introduction, you should include a wholly objective, “just-the-facts” analysis of your Note’s theme. Unfortunately, this is where many candidates tend to go off the rails.

When writing the objective and subjective portions of your Note, keep in mind the aforementioned purpose of a law review Note: an original recommendation of policy for the legal community.

Your objective research is only the preparation that is required to adequately articulate your subjective opinion. And, frankly, your objective research is essentially somebody else’s hard work that you are reproducing in preparation for the true purpose of a law review Note: your subjective recommendation of policy.

Thus, do not, as many candidates do, give the reader a “history lesson” based on an accumulation of material that the reader could have looked up herself. Rather, you should keep the objective portion of your Note to the bare minimum relevant facts that are required to support your subjective recommendation of policy for the legal community. This should represent about 30 percent of your Note.

C. Writing the Subjective Portion

The subjective portion of your Note, in contrast, is the bulk and the heart of your Note.

Here, you are virtually creating pure gold.

You are offering some kind of novel opinion, framework, or viewpoint that the legal community has thus far never considered and, thereby, contributing to the creation of knowledge and the progress of society. Compare this purpose to the purpose of the objective portion, where you are just copying somebody else’s creation.

Obviously, since this portion of the Note is your creation, it will require less footnote citations than the objective portion of your Note. However, remember to tie in the objective material with your subjective analysis by extracting all of the relevant facts, thoroughly probing them, and utilizing them to support your argument. This section should represent about 60 percent of your Note.

D. Writing the Conclusion

Finally, the conclusion is admittedly the least important part of your Note because, frankly, by the time the Selection Committee has reached the conclusion, it has probably already decided whether or not your Note belongs in the “Publish” or “No Publish” pile. Nonetheless, a strong conclusion is still necessary for a good Note.

Remember the grade school formula for writing papers and giving presentations? While I’m sure variations exist, my recollection is this:

“First, tell the audience what you are going to tell them. Then, tell them. Lastly, tell them what you told them.”

The basic rule applies even in the sophisticated realm of law review. Your introduction clearly announced the theme as well as your subjective opinion and the reasoning supporting it. The objective and subjective portions thoroughly probed and analyzed your recommendation of policy and the facts supporting it. And the conclusion will offer a recap of the Note by essentially rewording your introduction. Thus, like the introduction, your conclusion should represent about five percent of your Note.

In the end, remember that you are the expert, not the Selection Committee. And, further, the individual on the Committee evaluating your Note is a law student just like you and, most likely, has little (if any) specialized knowledge in your theme.

Thus, take the reader by the hand, make your arguments as simple and understandable as possible, and do not be too discouraged by redundancy as it can help to solidify the substance of your Note in the reader’s mind.

— – —

Thanks, Jonathan! If you missed part one of this series, don’t neglect to consider Jonathan’s advice for picking a great law review Note topic.

More about Jonathan
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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