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Law School Success

Get Published During Law School: Writing a Law Journal Article

Get Published During Law School: Writing a Law Journal Article - Quimbee

Get Published During Law School: Writing a Law Journal Article

Writing an article for a law school journal isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll pour hours into researching, writing, and editing a publication-worthy piece. But publishing offers payoffs, including a favorable impression with employers. Publication indicates that you have strong research and writing skills and the grit to see a difficult project through.

Student scholarship makes an impact. Legal scholars, practitioners, legislators, and judges regularly review legal journals. Your article might push legislators to make a needed statutory reform or help a court make the right decision. Student scholarship has a tremendous reach—even the Supreme Court occasionally references student work. In recent years, two lucky students saw their articles cited by Justices Sotomayor and Gorsuch.

Pick a Publication-Worthy Topic

Let’s start with the basics. Legal journals typically publish a mix of scholarship drafted by legal scholars and students. Some journals refer to student-authored scholarship as notes or comments. 

Legal journals publish articles that innovate. You must explore a novel topic or, at the very least, make a new claim that contributes to the legal community’s understanding of the law. Don’t make the mistake of writing on a subject that’s been thoroughly dissected by other authors.

Selecting a topic takes legwork. Inspiration often springs from ambiguities in the law, circuit splits, or recent developments in regulatory, statutory, or case law. Pay attention to whether your class discussions or course materials reference some unresolved issue in the law. Law blogs and the librarians at your law school are also great resources. Librarians can point you to specialized research databases for topic selection.

Current events and hot-button issues may form the basis for a good article. Artificial intelligence, immigration, and corporate governance trended during last year’s article submission cycle. But a topic that carries significance to the legal community might also emerge from obscurity. Don’t be afraid to dig into overlooked corners of the law. Your piece may become the go-to for practitioners, judges, and scholars educating themselves on the issue.

The topic-selection process isn’t complete without a preemption check. Conduct research to verify that existing scholarship doesn’t cover your claim, and be sure to run your proposed topic by a faculty member who teaches in the area. In addition to ensuring that your claim covers new ground, a professor can assess whether there’s enough material to support a full article.

Finally, make sure you like the topic. You’ll be working with it for months.

Make a Research Plan

Before you dive headfirst into research, make a plan. Begin by reviewing secondary sources, which provide general overviews of the law and cite leading cases. Budget time for locating authorities and reading them. Set up an organized system, either electronic or hardcopy, for filing the authorities you plan to use. Writing is easier if you don’t have to wade through materials to find the one authority you wanted to cite.

It’s easy to get lost in the research phase and never move on. How do you know when it’s time to begin drafting? In your research, you should use different pathways to locate authorities—search multiple research databases and vary the search terms. When multiple research pathways lead to the same sources, you’ve probably found the major relevant materials. Start drafting. You can always circle back to research small segments of your piece if you later find that you need more material or come up with a different angle.

Structure the Article according to Accepted Conventions

Legal scholarship follows a conventional format. Most articles frame a discrete legal problem, offer critical analysis, and propose a solution. Generally, you’ll need these components:
  • Introduction. Hook the reader’s attention and frame the legal problem that needs solving. Provide a road map of the article’s sections, and foreshadow your proposed solution. 
  • Background. Next, provide background. Describe the current state of the law and, if necessary, the positions taken by existing scholarship.
  • Analysis. The analysis is the meat of your article. Demonstrate a depth of research. A reader is more likely to trust your conclusions if you’ve carefully weighed the sources. At the end of the analysis, present your proposed solution to the problem.
  • Conclusion. End with a conclusion. Provide a brief recap, and link your article’s claim to broader academic or policy debates.

Write Small Segments

You run a marathon one step at a time, and you write a lengthy article piece by piece. Brainstorm an outline of your article. Include the section headings and the sources you plan to use. Assign yourself a separate deadline for each segment. 

Build flexibility into your plan. Allow your outline to evolve as you dig deeper into the problem and your proposed solution. You might discover you need to devote additional time to explore a subtopic in greater depth, or you might decide to revamp your solution.

Conquer Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is demoralizing. To push through it, alter your mentality. If perfectionism is eating at you, commit to a sloppy copy—a very imperfect first draft. No one else has to see it but you. Revising is easier than drafting from scratch, so the writing process may be less bumpy once you get something on paper. It also helps to skip around in your draft. The reader won’t know if you wrote the middle of the article first. If one section is giving you trouble, tackle another segment. 

Revise, Revise, Revise

Expect to go through numerous drafts. Edit for substance by pondering how a skeptical reader would respond to your arguments. If there are weak points, address them. Improve readability and mechanics, too. Polish word selection, strengthen transitions, and ruthlessly cut extraneous material. As my middle-school English teacher liked to say, “Good writing is like bacon. It shrinks.”

Save Time for Citation

Nearly every sentence in your article must be supported with citation. When you’re discussing another scholar’s ideas, referencing a case or other authority, or making some factual claim, you need a citation. If the purpose of the sentence is to map out an argument, make a transition, or present an original idea, you typically don’t need to cite a source. Note that the citations are given in footnotes, not embedded in the text. 

Settle for drafting imperfect placeholder citations as you write. Crafting perfect citations interrupts the flow of writing. Dedicate separate work sessions to polishing the citations in your article. Ensure each citation conforms to Bluebook conventions and provides an accurate pinpoint reference. Readers more readily trust your claims if you cite a specific page or section within the source.

Submit Your Work

Once the draft is complete, submit your work for publication. The journals at your law school are a logical first choice because many law journals prefer pieces drafted by students at the school. But if you’re bent on publication, broaden your horizons. You can also submit your work to the journals at other law schools. Some journals publish work by outside students.

If your article is accepted for publication, the work continues. The journal’s editorial staff will offer suggestions on your piece and edit the citations. You’ll need to respond to suggested edits and ready your work for publication.

After months of work, your article will finally appear in print. Celebrate the accomplishment, thank everyone who helped you along the way, and add your publication credit to your resume!

Plan Your Next Move

Writing an article is an enormous undertaking, but with the right approach, you can do it. Facing the daunting task of writing a journal article prepares you for the next steps toward becoming a practicing attorney.

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Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 91% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,600+ real questions from past bar exams
*First-time bar exam takers who completed at least 75% of Quimbee Bar Review or Quimbee Bar Review+. The margin of error is 5.9%.

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