Memoirs of a Staff Editor: What They Don’t Tell You About Law Journals

Memoirs of a Staff Editor: What They Don’t Tell You About Law JournalsPlease welcome our 2L guest writer, who discusses her personal experience being on a law journal – the good, the bad and the things that you may not hear from others before you make the commitment.

Writing for a law journal is an intense experience. Aside from writing your actual note and conducting peer edits, there are many responsibilities attached to the role that often are not publicized until you are offered a position. Some of your tasks may include: attending mandatory events, holding office hours, and joining one of the journal’s subcommittees to perform relevant, specified functions.

The write-on process for a law journal varies by law school and sometimes, per journal. At my law school, law students partake in a legal writing competition, which is the event that initially qualifies individuals to be considered for one. It is a grueling three-day process that is held the day after your 1L finals have ended and consists of bluebooking, grammar editing, and crafting a written argument concerning a set topic, designated by the competition rules.

At first, I was under the impression that the competition was structured in such a way as to eliminate contestants who were not truly serious about journal commitments and would ultimately cause them to abandon their submissions. I was wrong. The competition is formulated to demonstrate exactly what is expected of you and severely underestimates the challenges you will encounter when chosen for the real opportunity. Again, law school regulations vary across both schools and individual journals, so I can only speak on behalf of my own experiences thus far.

After accepting the offer (you must accept at my school or you receive an incomplete for rejecting it and an ‘F’ on your transcript if you quit before the year is over), I was instructed to attend an obligatory four-day training session the week before classes started. Since journal offers are not released until mid-July, I lost my only chance for a brief summer vacation (my most recent one was prior to law school circa 2015), because I had already provided my summer internship with an end date, unaware that those last days of freedom would be replaced by journal training.

Additionally, our school does not disclose information relating to the extraneous responsibilities until after you are accepted to a journal. Once again, I was mistaken. I thought my duties exclusively involved adhering to editing deadlines and handing in a polished, forty-page journal note at the end of spring semester. I discovered that not only were those not my sole obligations, but also my note would be due at the end of fall semester instead, along with the requirement of submitting certain portions of it every few weeks.

I realize that it is a privilege to serve as a member of law review, moot court, or a law journal, and I am immensely grateful that I was selected by my number one choice, but at that point, I felt blindsided. I had missed my only opportunity for a break (four days!) that I desperately needed after over a year of balancing work and law school simultaneously. I was burdened with office hours I did not want, and I was assigned subcommittee tasks that I could not have possibly known about before joining (though I was fortunate enough to receive my first pick for this also). The school year had not even started yet, and already I felt overwhelmed.

There is only one verb to describe how it feels to have five classes, a job, executive membership duties in several legal societies, and a staff editor position on a law journal: drowning. On top of all of that, there is no rhyme or reason for when you will be assigned notes to edit, which come equipped with short turn-around dates; no warning that subcommittees require tasks to be completed every other week, not just randomly; and, unless you have class or a serious emergency, no way to excuse the mandatory requirements of office hours or after-school networking events. Time no longer exists.

Moreover, those stress factors do not even account for the process of writing the actual note. Did I mention the forty-page standard? You are required to pick a topic that has not been preempted, conduct copious amounts of research for it, find a law school professor to agree to act as your advisor, create an outline, abide by bluebook guidelines, learn how to utilize footnotes properly, meet with your note editor after each portion is due, and ensure that the final product is handed in the night before a huge holiday. Then, finals for the classes you have neglected all semester for a journal that does not equate to a grade, are two weeks later. Needless to say, 2L has been more taxing than I could have ever fathomed.

To make matters worse, our school enforces the notion that writing for a journal is “an honor.” It is not, in my opinion. Throughout my semester, I have had numerous law professors remind me that because a law journal is not law review, employers will not care unless you are published or granted a position on the editorial board during your 3L year; both of which are extremely difficult feats to accomplish. It also multiplies your stress levels because then you have to worry about whether or not you will be selected for publishing. Essentially, you will spend all of your time working on a journal that has an approximate one-in-forty chance of being published while your real grades suffer. Though I was aware of these particular risks, there is no way to fully comprehend the situation until you are immersed in it.

In short, think very hard before you join a law journal. It is an enormous commitment. If you do decide to apply to one, here are some tips: find five potential topics that interest you within a week of receiving your offer; scope out note advisors early in the semester who are interested in your topic; act beyond anal when scheduling time to devote to it; register for a minimal amount of credits; and mentally prepare yourself for a year (or at least a fall semester), that you could have never have possibly imagined would be more demanding than your 1L experience. As a final caveat, this article is an opinion piece, but many of my colleagues share similar sentiments.


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