May 5, 2004

So I thought you were going to write something about Law Review?

Yes, well, Gordon was pushing me to respond to his lawrev post, so let me try to say a couple of things. I did law review a long time ago, back in the early 80s, and I can't say I found it a terribly rewarding experience. I'm sure I was one of those lost souls who found the process of entering into The Law so unfamiliar and overwhelming that I wanted to make sure to do all the things I heard were the things that people who become successful do. This was an impossible scheme, though, because one of the things I wanted to make sure to do was to attend every class, and I soon discovered that the ethic of Law Review was to disdain attending class and even to view attending class as defaulting on your commitment to Law Review. To be dedicated to learning from the classes (something that as a lawprof I now see as central to the law school experience), one had almost to sneak to class and not talk about it. Law Review was a strange little society, run by students. The 3Ls had power over the 2Ls, culminating in a big secret meeting at which next year's editorial board was chosen. The power to choose the next year's editors stoked an unseemly but unspoken competition among the 2Ls. Gordon reports having a rewarding friendly experience with other members of Law Review, and that could happen, but you certainly have no guarantee. It might be far more rewarding to choose your own law school pals to study with, to debate about law and politics with, and to have fun with. Then you can hang out with people you like, not the enforced companions that happen to have made Law Review. Law Review is a hothouse of work and ambition that you may not want to be trapped in.

There are other scholarly outlets, like taking seminars that require papers and then turning the paper into a publishable article that you can place in one of the many law reviews. (Prof. Volokh's book "Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers" is a great help.) Working as a professor's research assistant can be a good experience (or a bad one!). Law Review is especially good for people who like to edit other people's work, and it is also a good discipline for people who want to learn how to edit. Editing is important in law, and law review will give you some incentive to learn how to do it right, but it will by no means train you how to do it systematically. It might just as well reinforce bad editing practices or help homogenize your writing into a standardized form.

So look very carefully at what the law review is really like at your school. How good is the review? How solid is the tradition of working hard and upholding high writing and research standards? What is the social atmosphere like? Don't just take it like medicine. Do it because the experience will be worth it in your case. If you want to bolster your credentials, consider the different ways you might do that. To do law review is extremely time-consuming: you necessarily give something up if you do it. So, in your case, what sacrifice will you be making? You know, you could go through your whole life doing things because this is the next thing that you've been made to feel is the best thing to do, but if you do that you lose track of who you really are and you may even lose the ability to become the person you ought to be. Get possession of yourself and make it a practice to step back and ask is this something I want to do--not just about Law Review, but about everything--and then you won't find yourself ten years from now feeling unsatisfied and ready to chuck all the glossy rewards you achieved draining the precious passion and power of your youth.