As summer approaches and the academic year comes to a close, it’s a time to unwind, get some rays, and (if you’re like so many busy legal scholars) begin working on your next research article. Of course, that starts with picking a topic.
With so many possible article ideas and angles to pursue and so little time before the next submission cycle, how can you effectively weigh your options and know when you’ve landed on the right one?
Since the spring of 2021, Scholastica has been reaching out to outgoing law review editors to ask them to share article selection advice for their successors and submitting authors as part of an ongoing blog series. And we’ve garnered many insights into what makes for a compelling and competitive law review article in the process. In this blog post, we’re rounding up three tips from former editors to help you pick your next article topic.
With limited publication space and lots of submissions to sort through, law reviews have to be selective about the kinds of articles they’ll even consider publishing. For many, one of the leading factors in deciding which submissions to read first and, ultimately, which to extend publication offers on is timeliness. Editors are seeking articles that contribute to current legal conversations.
However, authors should be mindful of not making their content too time-sensitive. As former Capital University Law Review editor Lindsay Miller explained, authors should “discuss matters that are timely, topical, and trendy” while ensuring they’re not writing on topics likely to go out of date in a few weeks or even months. “This will likely result in more hesitation from a journal,” said Miller. Law reviews need lead time to get articles to publication and want to ensure they won’t lose relevance by the time they’re released.
Authors should also ensure that the connections they draw between their article topic and current events are meaningful and not forced. According to former University of Toledo Law Review editor Jesse Scott, a good litmus test is to ask yourself the rhetorical question, “why does this matter?” Simply relating a legal argument to current events isn’t enough. Ideally, your article should be on a topic with the potential to impact change in terms of how matters of law are interpreted or enacted.
“Write on something that matters — not necessarily what you think is cool or interesting but what matters to legal academia at large,” said Scott. “I’ve rejected several pieces that were well written and raised good points but didn’t really matter to anyone or anything. Unfortunately, because of limited space, these are not things that we can publish.”
In addition to prioritizing timely articles, we’ve also heard from outgoing law review e-boards that they’re giving greater weight to articles where the author has a clear and meaningful relationship to the topic at hand, whether from personal experience or extensive study.
Former Minnesota Journal of Law & Inequality editor Jen Davison encouraged authors to indicate how they connect to their article topic in their submissions, ideally early in the abstract. “One thing that is really important is to show your link to the topic you are writing on. It would seem inauthentic for me, a law student, to write an article about what it’s like to train tigers for 40 years. I haven’t done it! If I want to write that article, I should explain how I’m situated in relation to the content,” said Davison. “Even better, I should write articles that connect to my life and professional experiences so that you can read the authenticity of my connection to my content.”
Davison added that authors should be mindful not to speak on behalf of marginalized voices. “This is particularly important as we collectively recognize the power of diverse voices in scholarship and the disservice we may do to the world of readers when homogenous voices write scholarship on behalf of diverse voices,” she said.
Finally, we’ve heard from editors time and again that they value when authors actively outline where they feel their article contributes to legal discourse and why. For busy students still learning about all aspects of the law, having that clear context makes screening and weighing submissions a lot more straightforward, as former Boston University Law Review editor Collin Grier explained.
“It is really helpful to editors reviewing articles when you point out where you think your article adds value in the cover letter,” said Grier. “Obviously, authors know a lot more about their substantive areas than editors do. So being direct about the value you’re adding goes a long way to convincing us to select your article!”
Former UIC John Marshall Law Review editor Polatip Subanajouy also encouraged authors not to be afraid to write on topics that challenge the status quo where they can make a compelling argument for their differing viewpoints.
“You may have to spend more time drawing analogies to other areas of law to support your claims. Don’t be discouraged, however, from being the maverick. It’s more challenging, but, ultimately, law review is the search for truth in the legal profession in its purest form,” said Subanajouy. “If you see something that is true before its time, and you fight for it, the truth will come out eventually, and you could become the giant on whose shoulders future generations stand.”
At the same time, authors should be mindful of real-world constraints that apply to the arguments they make and acknowledge them where necessary. Former Vanderbilt Law Review editor Nathan Campbell said that while authors may be wary of addressing limitations because they worry it will dilute their argument, the truth is it will only make it stronger.
“It’s easy for academics (of all fields) to ignore or assume away real-world limitations to their arguments or solutions. Yet, my peers (including myself) value pieces that engage with those limitations, even if they are not able to truly resolve them (it would be irrational to require resolution of the hard issues),” Campbell explained.
Countless considerations go into choosing a law review article topic, and there is no perfect formula for success. But identifying ones you can meaningfully tie to real-world issues and draw personal and/or professional connections to is a great starting point.
As we wrap up this post, we’d also be remiss not to mention to please, please, please remember to also follow law reviews’ author guidelines. You don’t want your carefully crafted article to be rejected because it doesn’t meet a law review’s strict word limit or other criteria. We cover submission criteria authors should always look for in this blog post.