Tag Archives: law review

Originality in Scholarly Legal Writing

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

One common law school graduation requirement is a scholarly paper. Some students fulfill this requirement by writing a student note for their school’s law review or specialty journal, while others write a lengthy research paper as part of a seminar course. One requirement for legal scholarly writing is originality, which can feel like a lot of pressure to a 2L or 3L. After all, you are still figuring out what it means to be a lawyer, and how do you know enough to come up with something “new” to write about? The fear can paralyze you, preventing you from narrowing your topic or developing a thesis for your work.

The fear really comes from a misconception about what originality actually requires. Originality doesn’t mean that you have to be the first person to have ever written about the topic. Instead, it means that your paper has to include original thought. You can’t just summarize what other people have already written about the topic, as you might do in an undergraduate term paper. You have to have a perspective, something new to add to the conversation in some way.

What makes a scholarly paper original? Of course, if you are the first person to ever have identified a legal problem, that is an easy way to have an original paper. You might notice that a court has identified something as an issue of first impression, for example, and no scholars have yet explored that issue further. Or maybe courts are split about how to resolve a legal issue, but not much has been written outside of court opinions.

But even if other scholars have already offered potential solutions to a legal problem, there is often space for another, alternative approach. Maybe you realize that scholars have not considered something you think could be relevant for analysis of a legal issue. There may be two scholarly approaches to a topic, very different from each other, and you believe the real solution might be something in between. Or maybe another discipline has a different way of looking at that legal problem, and you realize that those other theories could be integrated into your own legal analysis.

One way to find your own voice, your personal space within the scholarly conversation, is to read some of the scholarship that has already been published on the subject. Do a search within law reviews and journals in one of the legal databases, looking for articles that have been written in the past few years on your topic. That will give you a starting point for where the scholarly conversation has been heading. Choose at least 2 or 3 articles that seem to have a significant amount of discussion of the topic that you are interested in. As you read those articles, have your own conversation with the authors in the margins. Does what you are reading raise further questions? Note what those questions are. Do you feel that the author is not considering something that could be important? Write “What about ….?” in the margin. Does what you read inspire new ideas? Make a note of those as well. When you take this approach for multiple articles, you will often identify your own perspective of the topic you have chosen.

Finally, if you have concerns about whether your topic is original enough to meet your law school’s scholarly writing requirements, make sure that you have a conversation with the person supervising your research project.

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Tackling Legal Writing Assignments (and Other Law School Projects)

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ratch0013 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just when you think you have everything under control, it happens: You’re making progress on your outlines, and you’re keeping up-to-date with your assigned reading for each class. You think you may even have some time next weekend to meet up with some friends from undergrad or catch up on the new episodes of your favorite series on Netflix. You think you have developed a study schedule that is working for you, and then your legal writing professor gives your class a new major writing assignment. Or maybe you are an upper-level law student, and you have a seminar paper, draft of a law review note, moot court brief, or some other project coming due soon. How can you maintain your study plan, complete this new major project, and still maintain some semblance of a balanced life? The key to your success in this instance is going to be developing a strong plan of attack.

Law students tend to have problems with these types of big assignments for three main reasons. First, they may be intimidated by the size of the project from the beginning, viewing it as one colossal mountain that must be conquered. Second, students often underestimate the amount of time it requires to do a good job on a writing assignment. They may remember how long it took to write a paper in undergrad and assume that the new writing task is similar in its time demands. Finally, law students often procrastinate in starting a new project, either because they are intimidated by its size or because they underestimate its requirements. By the time that they actually start the project, they may not have left enough time to do a good job on it—and in the meantime, they let their other studies slide.

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So how can you approach these types of major projects in a way that will maximize your opportunity to successfully complete them and prevent an increase in stress? Here is a step-by-step method for tackling your big law school projects:

  1. Develop a “project plan” as soon as your professor assigns the project. One key to successful planning is to avoid delay.
  2. Break major projects up into several smaller components. Dividing the project into smaller pieces will help you to not be intimidated by the project’s size. It will also help you to better evaluate what needs to be accomplished and how much time the project will take. Make a list of the “tasks” that have to be accomplished and estimate how long each task will take. For example, maybe you have to draft an appellate brief for a class. Some of the tasks that you might list for this assignment include: reading and taking notes from the case record; researching the applicable standard of review and relevant legal issues (treat each legal issue as a separate task); drafting the brief (treat each section of the brief—for example, statement of the issues, statement of the facts, statement of the case, jurisdictional statement, argument/analysis of each legal issue, conclusion, etc.—as a separate task); formatting (i.e., creating case caption, signature block, Table of Contents, and Table of Authorities); and editing. Even editing might be broken up into separate tasks. For example, one editing task might be to edit argument and analysis. Another editing task might be to edit for grammar, typographical errors, and spelling. A third edit might focus solely on citations and Bluebooking.
  3. Set a separate deadline for each task you’ve identified—create a place for each task in your study schedule. Spread out the tasks so that you are able to maintain your other studies as well. Make conscious choices about scheduling—some tasks will require less brain power than others. Schedule difficult tasks for times that your brain is fresher, and easy tasks for times that you may be more tired. These types of conscious decisions allow you to make the best use of your time.
  4. Hold yourself accountable—don’t become complacent because it seems like the deadline is far away. Thinking “I have plenty of time” results in procrastination and less successful outcomes.
  5. Don’t forget time for editing. Editing is one of the most important parts of the writing process, and most students don’t give it the time that it deserves. Schedule tasks early enough to give yourself plenty of time for editing. The quality of your work will be much better, and your grades will reflect the extra effort.

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Why Law Review?: Five Ways that Serving on a Law Review Contributes to Academic Success

It’s that time of year in law school when 1Ls (now rising 2Ls) are completing law review writing competitions, hoping for the invitation to join the journal of their choice. Sure, working on a law review staff is a lot of work, but there are also many benefits. For those of you who are on the fence about whether to join a law review, I thought I would put together a list of five ways that serving on a law review can contribute to your overall academic success in law school. Here it is:

1. You will gain an in-depth understanding of the BlueBook. No longer will you hesitate when trying to remember how to abbreviate case names, when there is a space after a period in a citation versus when there is not, or when it is proper to use “see” as a signal. Your newfound confidence in your Bluebooking expertise will serve you throughout the remainder of your law school days, as well as in law practice afterwards.

2. Working with good (and bad) writing helps to make you a better writer. The more writing that you read and critique, the better your own writing skills get. As you read and edit other people’s writing, you will become more conscious of your own writing. Of course, you will learn more about grammar through this process, but you will also learn about what it takes to write effectively—in other words, to communicate precisely, clearly, and concisely.

3. You will learn how to manage your time more efficiently. It is no secret that working on the staff of a law review requires significant time. And time is already in short supply in law school, as you discovered during your first year as a student. Juggling your journal work with your studies will inspire you to develop even better time management skills.

4. You will find new mentors. One of the greatest benefits to working on a law review is that you will develop new relationships with upper-level law students. During your 1L year, you take all of your classes with the same people, who are all 1Ls as well. Once you are a 2L, your classmates will be more diverse. Working with upper-level students on law review is a great way to make connections with some of those new classmates. They can be great resources for you, as they have more experience.

5. You will learn how to collaborate better with others. The law school environment tends to be pretty competitive, but law review is one place where you quickly learn the benefits of collaboration. The people skills you learn by working on a journal will help you not only in getting issues to press but also in classes where teamwork and cooperation is often essential, such as Negotiations, Mediation, and Trial Practice.

Only you know if working on a law review is the right thing for you—but, as you can see, there are a lot of hidden benefits to journal service!

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips