21st February 2024

Like judicial clerkships, legal journals are a facet of legal education overlooked by most law school applicants. The same law students who compete strenuously to edit a law review likely gave little thought to such publications when they were applying to law school.

This is a shame. While participating in a law journal is by no means required, many lawyers consider this extracurricular experience to be a highlight of their law school experience.

So, what are legal journals, and why are they so important? 

The Basics of Legal Journals

As an academic discipline, legal scholarship is unique in that the primary academic journals in the field are managed and edited by law students. Law students select which articles are published, review and edit those articles, and even publish their own works.

The editor of a law review may make a decision that shapes articles later read in law classes or even cited by Supreme Court justices in their opinions. Groundbreaking articles may open up new fields of study or change interpretations of American laws.

This is an awesome responsibility for a law student who may be barely of drinking age!

Granted, many law journals have faculty advisers or advisory boards composed of law professors, practitioners, judges or bar association leaders. Indeed, developing a close relationship with such luminaries is one of the key benefits of working on a law journal.

Law schools may offer a range of legal journals on a wide variety of subjects, from the “Children’s Legal Rights Journal” of Loyola University Chicago School of Law in Illinois to the “Alaska Law Review” of Duke University School of Law in North Carolina. (If that last one sounds odd, note that Alaska is the only state without a law school).

Moreover, most law schools have a law review, typically the flagship legal journal of the school. Becoming editor-in-chief of any legal journal is prestigious, and becoming editor-in-chief of a law review is a paramount honor. 

Joining a Law Journal

Law journals may range in how selective they are, and if you’re interested in joining one it’s wise to learn about the journal and talk to its members in your first year of law school.

More selective law reviews and legal journals often host competitions to choose new members, which typically occur right after the end of the first year of law school. Competitions are primarily based on legal research, writing and editing. First-year students who rank at the top of their class may also be invited to join a law review, sometimes automatically.

Members of law journals are expected to complete tasks like editing and fact-checking articles, writing publishable notes, reviewing submissions and planning events.

The benefits of membership in a law review may include networking, intellectual stimulation and help securing a job after law school. 

A Law School Applicant’s Perspective on Law Journals

As a law school applicant, stressing yourself out about whether you might make it onto law review at your dream school is putting the cart before the horse.

However, browsing the publications offered by a law school can help you understand what sets it apart from other schools. While most schools have a law review, they vary in other specialized journals offered, just as they vary in clinical opportunities.

If a law school has a journal in a subject that interests you, that’s a sign that there’s an active community of students with similar interests. This is definitely worth highlighting in your application materials when explaining why you are applying to this school.

In the meantime, if you are interested in a law journal, be sure to hone your writing and editing skills before law school.

After all, if you think the reading comprehension section of the LSAT is daunting, open a leading law review and try to puzzle through its heavily footnoted arguments!