One of the biggest benefits you’ll get from being a member of law review is getting to draft and submit a student note for publication. Writing a law review note, or article that analyzes an original legal issue, presents a hands-on opportunity for you to learn about legal scholarship, improve your chances of being selected for your law review’s executive board, and, if published, to build your resume.
In a previous roundup of law review submission season resources we shared some great articles on writing law review notes. Today we’re highlighting some of the best tips from those articles to help you develop your note - from brainstorming a topic, to evaluating your chosen theme, and preparing your article for submission.
The first step towards writing a standout law review note is choosing a timely and compelling theme. It’s imperative to begin to weed through possible note ideas from the time you’re selected for law review, and to know how to spot the winners. In her “Guide to Writing a Student Law Review Note” Leora Harpaz, Professor at Western New England College School of Law, outlines advice for choosing a publication-worthy note topic. According to Professor Harpaz your note should:
- Focus on an issue of current legal controversy, such as analyzing conflicting judicial decisions or sound reasoning in consenting or dissenting opinions surrounding a recent court decision
- Address a topic that will not be overly analyzed by the time your note is considered for publication (remember your note may not be published until a year after you start it!)
- Offer original analysis and a novel perspective on an existing legal issue backed by persuasive authorities
- Have a balance between being too broadly and too narrowly focused
Professor Harpaz said one common challenge for student note writers is selecting a topic of brewing or potential controversy in its beginning stages, such as before court decisions have been issued. While early-stage topics are a good option to avoid your note becoming stale, they can also make it more difficult to find support for your argument. Harpaz said students shouldn’t feel that they have to stray away from early-stage topics, but advises students to make sure they have a foundation of solid legal authorities to build upon.
Depending on how your law review works, you may have to choose and thoroughly research two note theme ideas and write up a strengths and weaknesses comparison of the topics to be evaluated by your law review board. Other law reviews may not require a topic comparison, but will likely expect note candidates to provide some sort of statement of originality for their note topic and undergo a preemption check to rule out any chance of writing on a theme that’s already been covered. Professor Harpaz offers a thorough explanation of how to evalaluate a note topic to help you get started.
Whether you have to write up a formal note comparison or not, it’s a good idea to have a Plan B in the back of your mind prior to your law review’s preemption process. Though, to ease concerns about your note theme being deemed unoriginal, former editor and member of the note selection committee for the Indiana International & Comparative Law Review, Jonathan Burns said in his experience this is rarely a problem. Burns said most students can be assured that their note theme will be deemed original so long as it’s not a knockoff of another paper or grounded in a general discussion of a well-known topic.
Burns advises students not to get caught up on trying to find a note topic that no one has ever written about, but rather to focus on approaching their chosen theme from a unique angle. As long as your note helps move legal discussion forward, it’s alright if it has been or is being examined by other scholars.
Once your theme has survived any pre-analysis from your note selection committee, you’re ready to start writing! Where to begin? Everyone has their own process for researching and writing outlines. You’ll of course need to find the method that works best for you.
The good news when starting your note is that you have research to build off of from your topic evaluation! Professor Harpaz suggests following the trail of research listed in the sources you found during your note evaluation in order to delve deeper into your theme. Read all of the cases cited in the primary case law that you are focusing on and do creative searches to find other related source materials. Once you feel you’ve exhausted your research efforts, Harpaz advises students to revisit their original proposed note theme and make any necessary adjustments to it. Your research may lead you in a slightly different direction than expected.
In this early stage of outlining your note you will also want to decide on the style and form your note will take. Will you write a classic case-note or an issue-focused note? Choosing a form for your note up front will help you maintain a steady focus as you organize your final paper. From there you’ll want to start outlining your introduction, main sections, subsections, and conclusion. Be sure to reach out to your editorial board for any internal note writing resources, such as FAQs and tips sheets that you can use to ensure your note organization meets the expectations of your selection committee.
In general, all notes should include four key components, which Jonathan Burns outlines in “How to Write a Law Review Note Worthy of Publication: Writing the Note”: an introduction, objective portion, subjective portion, and a conclusion. Burns advises students to pay special attention to their introduction as it will set the tone of your note for the selection committee. He said a good introduction should not contain ambiguities, but rather clearly state the theme of your note and reveal your conclusion. Don’t worry about foreshadowing here! The revelation readers get at the end of your paper should not be what your conclusion is but rather the journey you took to get there.
Do you have any tips for writing a law review note to share? We’d love to hear them on Twitter at @scholasticaLR!