Improve Your Chances of Getting on Law Review

Tips from a 3L at Stanford Law School

As an almost 2L completing the Law Review Candidate Exercise, I sat at a desk for 18 hours straight with only my bluebook and the Chicago Manual of Style for company—and that was just the home stretch. As an almost 3L grading candidate exercises, I realized how much easier those 18+ hours could have been if only I’d known then what I know now. Since every school has a different candidate exercise, this advice will be most useful for Stanford Law students, but hopefully there are a few nuggets of truth for anyone trying to write on to Law Review.

At Stanford, no one grades on to Law Review. Everyone has to complete an editing exercise (correcting substance, grammar, and bluebooking in a real article) and a substantive exercise (writing a 1500 word essay based on a closed universe of cases that usually involve a circuit split).

The Editing Exercise

1. Make sure you can see what you’re doing. When you edit footnotes, change the zoom to 200% (or even more). This way, you can see the small things like whether or not commas are italicized. Trust me, you’ll make fewer errors.

2. Cite your changes. If your Law Review allows you to make notes to the graders, take advantage. If you’re not sure what bluebook rule to apply, write a comment that explains the rationale behind choosing the rule you chose. The same goes for grammar. Use your Chicago Manual of Style and cite the rule you relied on when making a difficult grammatical call. Law Review loves anal retentive people. We want editors who take the time to look up whether or not the certain use of a comma can be rationalized as “stylistic” or is just clearly wrong.

3. Learn the Bluebook early: You have a clear advantage if you have been taking the time to master the bluebook before you pick up the candidate exercise. I knew someone who made herself memorize one Bluebook rule a day. Yes, it’s a little crazy, but she was far less miserable than the rest of us while completing the candidate exercise.

4. Leave yourself enough time: The people who make Law Review are the ones who put the most time into the exercise. It is a truly miserable experience, but if you spend 10 hours a day completing it, I would say you are 99.9% more likely to get onto Law Review than the person who only spent 5 hours a day. It takes time to check the footnotes (there is very little talent involved), which means that no matter how brilliant you are, it is impossible to fix the errors without putting in the time. Yes, it is so boring that you almost wish you had frostbite or a broken leg to take your mind off the boredom. But, if you really want to be on Law Review, put in the time.

The Substantive Exercise

1. Give your piece a title. The title helps you to focus your argument and orients your reader to what you will be arguing before she even starts reading the piece. After you’ve decided on a title, read through your essay and tighten up your argument to match the title (or change the title to better match your argument).

2. Take the time to organize your writing. Don’t forget that you’re writing persuasively and that persuasive writing benefits from structure. Your high school English teacher actually knew what she was talking about when she taught you the 5 paragraph essay form. Your essay should have an introduction that identifies the issue the cases address, an argument, your plan to prove that argument, supporting paragraphs that do what your introduction promises (don’t forget topic sentences!), and a conclusion. One of the biggest things I noticed while grading the substantive portion was how poor the organization often was. I got lost in people’s prose, I had no idea what they were trying to argue, and I didn’t have time to try to sort it out given the number of exercises I had to grade. Make it easy on your reader. Your convoluted sentences and big words might be the result of your brilliance, but brilliance doesn’t make a good substantive exercise. Good writers are able to clearly express complicated ideas. Aim for clarity.

3. Proofread: Often the cut-off for who gets on Law Review and who doesn’t is very close. You lose easy points by making careless errors. I know that by the end, you can barely see your computer screen, and you no longer care whether or not you get onto Law Review. Still, try to leave yourself at least one day before the exercise is due to re-read what you’ve written with fresh eyes. I had several people forget to use periods and close quotation marks or who used the wrong verb tense. As a grader, I found these errors careless, and I penalized them heavily.

4. Make sure you understand the cases: As you read the cases for the exercise, highlight language you might want to quote in your essay and make sure you understand the holding. When you quote the cases, make sure you indicate if you are quoting a dissenting or concurring opinion. It helped me to write a synopsis of the case’s holding on the top of each case, along with some bullet points on the court’s reasoning. After you read all the cases and decide what your argument will be (probably either saying that one of the cases has it right or that none of the cases do), read the cases again to pull out language you can use to support your contention.

5. Address counterarguments: You are writing persuasively, and persuasive writers debunk their detractors.

6. Stick to the word limit: We do check.

7. Don’t misquote cases: We check your cites, and if you misquote a case or have the wrong page cited, it’s a big point deduction.

8. Cite your arguments: Your arguments should be supported by the information in the cases. When in doubt, cite what you’re saying. If you can’t cite it, make sure you are justified in writing it based on the information you’ve been given for the exercise.

9. Brush up on your grammar: Believe it or not, some people pay attention to the difference between “which” and “that” or hate hanging modifiers or cringe at a missing comma. Your writing comes off as more clean and polished if it is free of grammar errors. If you aren’t grammatically savvy, review the rules on hyphenation, parallelism, the use of commas, frequent grammar mistakes, etc. Always refer to the Chicago Manual of Style when in doubt.

10. Checklist: Read over your essay and think about the following:

o Is it clear what my position is?
o Have I supported that position with cites to the cases?
Have I demonstrated understanding of each of the cases’ holdings?
o Have I taken a side? (always take a side or argue why all sides are wrong)
o Do I address counterarguments?
o Do I have a title?
o Have I broken any of the rules set forth for the exercise?
o Do I have a clear introduction and conclusion?
o Do all of my paragraphs have topic sentences?
o Do those topic sentences, when taken alone, articulate the skeleton of my argument?
o Did I proofread one last time and check my bluebooking?

Good luck!

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