Being a law review editor is exciting! You get to work with some of your smartest peers at school, talented legal academics from across the country, and ultimately you’re making a contribution to legal scholarship. But sometimes (most of the time?) being a law review editor can be overwhelming. It’s not like you can just Google “how do I law review” to figure out what you’re doing.
That’s why we’ve started interviewing current editors, former editors, and authors to get their opinions and advice on how successful law reviews operate. In this post, we asked Professor Enrique Armijo - Elon University School of Law Associate Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Affiliate Fellow of the Yale Law School Information Society Project, and former Editor-in-Chief of the North Carolina Law Review - to share some thoughts about his time as a law review EIC and now as a legal scholar. You can read about Professor Armijo’s experience below:
Reflecting on your time as Editor-in-Chief of the North Carolina Law Review, do you have any advice for current boards? In your opinion, is there anything that boards should or shouldn’t focus on when preparing their volumes?
The answer to this question has two parts. The first is what to focus on with the goal of producing a volume you can be proud of. The second is what to focus on with the goal of making you a better lawyer. Readers of this blog might claim to be more preoccupied with the first of those, but I suspect they are actually (and justifiably, in my view) more preoccupied with the second. So I’ll focus on that one.
Second-year law students often wonder, usually in the middle of the night in the library while counting the number of words in a block quote to make sure it’s 50 words and not 49, and while thinking to themselves “I’m literally the only person in the world who will care how many words are in this block quote, let alone count them,” what is exactly the point of all this work. What I tell our students in my role as advisor to the Elon Law Review, and what I think all students on a journal should know but might not be able to see in the moment, is that in the editing of others’ work you are learning to apply a level of precision, technical discipline, and attention to detail to your own work that the other parts of law school are not equipped to teach you. That’s the reason that many legal employers focus so much on the law review credential. It’s not that the students on the law review or other journals are “better” by that mere fact itself. It’s that you have learned what it takes to have perfect work product. And the only way you can learn that is by doing it.
As a former EIC and now author, is there anything you try to keep in mind when you work with law review editors?
My perception is that many authors find the student editing process to be taxing, nit-picky, or unnecessarily time-consuming. Some of these critiques are fair. Editing cycles can be too long, and student editors often err on the side of more proposed stylistic revisions rather than fewer. This process tends to have a cumulative negative effect on the author, by whose lights the piece was largely complete; no one, from my 7-year-old daughter to a chaired law professor, likes to be told, “you’re not done yet,” whether the object of that sentence is a side of peas or a writing project. Editors sometimes insist on citations for every proposition, or parentheticals for every cite, which in an author’s view 1) lards up prose that can be meticulously pored over—after all, authors are often former law review editors, and have internalized the lessons referred to in Answer 1 above; and 2) seems to conflict with many journals’ newly found obsession with publishing more succinct articles.
But in my view these are quibbles. There isn’t an article I’ve ever published that wasn’t made better in some way—not just technically, but substantively—by a student editor. Of course, from the author side, the marginal utility of having several back-and-forths with a student editor over word choice, missing parentheticals, or some other minor issue is minimal, especially compared with the utility gained by actually working on the next article that hasn’t yet been submitted for publication, instead of the article that a journal has already committed to publish. And students should understand that. But I approach every article editing process as a collaboration. It’s a particular kind of collaboration, since the end product has my name on it, not the editors’, and I keep that in mind during the editing process. But law review editors want the same thing I do: the best possible piece for their journal. So I stay in a collaborative frame of mind, as I would with any colleague—be responsive; meet deadlines; explain my point of view as to any areas of disagreement respectfully. I’ve found in most collaborations that the people you work with tend to meet you with the same diligence, energy, and good faith that you bring to them. By the way, and speaking selfishly, that’s also the way to get the best work out of your editor.
Being an Editor-in-Chief of a journal teaches you at an early age how you react when you are working on a project that requires many things to be executed by many different people at the proper times. Which is a succinct description of the process of publishing a journal on time. I always cringe when I hear a current or former EIC make references to “my staff,” or “my journal.” These people don’t belong to you by dint of the fact that you were lucky enough to win an election before a small group of high-achieving law students. They are your colleagues, and you can’t do the work by yourself. So don’t act like you can.