How to Write a Law Review Note Worthy of Publication: Presentation and Style

Jonathan Burns Attorney PhotoToday, we’re thrilled to welcome back Jonathan Burns back to The Girl’s Guide for more advice on writing a law review Note that’s worthy of publication. His first posts were on picking a great Note topic and actually writing the Note. Today, he’s back to talk about ever-important issues of presentation and style.

Welcome, Jonathan!

While the substance of your Note and the balance of the four aforementioned elements that comprise it are the most important aspects of producing a Note worthy of publication, there are a few hints and “dirty tricks” that I as a former member of a Note Publication Selection Committee can offer.

A. Focus on First Impressions

To begin, understand that first impressions are important. Thus, before you begin writing, take some time to glance through some law journals and law review articles. You will doubtless notice a few things.

First, there is usually a catchy title that both captivates the reader and encapsulates the whole heart of the piece. Next, there is also usually a relevant quote of some meaningful significance that further solidifies the heart of the Note.

Finally, there is usually a footnote after the author’s name that offers some background information on her. When it comes to the publication decision of your Note, now is not the time to be modest. Thus, if you have any special background that contributes to your interest in your Note’s theme, or if you worked closely with a prestigious faculty member who specializes in the topic, be sure to include that information and / or express appreciation to the professor who helped you. “Name-dropping” is not always bad.

B. Focus on Organization

Next, treat the organization of your Note with the utmost sincerity. After the reader reads your introduction, she should be able to flip through your Note and — based solely on the organization and the text of the headings and subheadings — have a complete understanding of what your Note is saying and why it is important. That is, the use of one-word headings and subheadings should be extremely rare. Rather, a heading / subheading should clearly encapsulate the heart of the section of the Note that it represents in one succinct sentence.

Finally, absolutely do not submit a Note without a table of contents. This will help the reader to quickly digest the overarching structure of your Note but, most importantly, if the organization of the table of contents does not appear completely logical and cogent to you, you can assume that your whole Note will be indecipherable to the Selection Committee.

C. Focus on Research

In the end, your Note as a finished product must clearly display two important concepts: first, that you are an expert in your Note’s theme; and second, that your expert opinion is sound and worthy of consideration by the legal community.

The manner in which these two concepts are met in a law review Note is largely dependent upon the research which the author undertook in preparing for and writing the Note. Thus, after reading the text of your Note, the individual on the Selection Committee reviewing your Note will likely conduct an independent examination of the footnotes to determine whether or not you appear to be an expert in your Note’s theme and whether or not you engaged in a meaningful analysis of your subjective opinion and the objective facts supporting it.

Thus, be mindful of the sources that you cite to support your assertions.

An expert on international law, for example, will probably not cite to Yahoo! News, About.com, Wikipedia or similar kinds of “cursory” sources very often. Rather, he will probably cite mostly to, for example, documents from the UN or other international bodies, treaties, cases before the ICJ, or even domestic law regulating international relations as well as books, treatises, and law review Articles from recognized experts in the field. To be sure, sources such as online news websites serve a beneficial purpose and help to increase access to information in short, readily available formats, but they generally do not contain the depth of analysis that is required when researching a complex issue for a law review Note. Thus, beware the temptation to Google your assertions and cite to whatever website appears first in the search results.

Next, show your reader that you engaged in a meaningful analysis when you wrote your Note. For example, when your Note touches on a topic that is relevant but not entirely important, consider offering an expanded explanation of the topic in a footnote. Further, when you make an assertion in your Note for which there is an equally valid counterargument, consider citing to a source supporting that counterargument and include a parenthetical explaining it.

Final Notes and “Dirty tricks”

Finally, there are a few ugly realities of the Note publication selection process that will help you to maximize your time spent on becoming an expert in your Note’s theme and, ultimately, writing a Note worthy of publication.

First, throw your Bluebook out the window, you won’t need it when writing your Note. But you will need it when you do your editing assignments and source checking, so don’t really throw it out the window (or go get it if you did). If your Note is selected for publication, the law review victims to follow in your footsteps next year will take care of getting your sources in compliance with the Bluebook. Thus, the Selection Committee will probably not place much emphasis on that aspect of your Note though, doubtless, no one will ever tell you that. The only situation where Bluebook compliance would matter is if two or more Notes were competing for the last publication slots. But if you maximize your time by adhering to the foregoing advice, you shouldn’t have to worry about competing for the last publication slot.

Next and relatedly, throw your Chicago Manual of Style out the window (not really). Again, as long as the grammar, style, and punctuation of your Note are minimally comprehensible, English major level writing is not necessary. Since next year’s law review victims will be editing your Note, the Selection Committee will probably not give much weight to this aspect of the candidates’ Notes — except, perhaps, in the aforementioned example of bottom-of-the-barrel Notes competing for the final publication slot(s).

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Thanks, Jonathan! Hopefully we’ll see some great journal Notes from readers soon!

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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