Reposting: “Should self-identified public interest law students do law review?”

NOTE: I originally wrote and posted this for the SALTlaw Blog, but because I recently wanted to direct students to it, I decided to repost this here.

Should self-identified “public interest” law students should do law review or, depending on the school and the nature of the program, moot court?  Months ago I promised I would work on a blog entry related to this question for the Equal Justice Works Blog, but I admit still being conflicted about the issue.  What follows are my thoughts, but they are subject to change and on this issue often do change.  As a law student, my first bonding with upper level, 2L & 3L, students happened at a NLG Disorientation retreat.  There I was told two memorable things: (1) your professors sold-out and though they sound progressive, they decided NOT to DO public interest work, and (2) you don’t have to and probably shouldn’t do law review.  Now, in my current position I am perhaps particularly nervous about and pained by (1) (something I have written about here), but (2) stuck with me while a student.

I easily convinced myself to extend my summer vacation a week rather than join my friends doing write-on.  (Fortunately Georgetown, where I went as a 1L, had write-on at the end of the summer, not in the middle of the 1L year like some schools I know, a practice that I think adds unnecessarily to the stresses of the 1L Spring semester.)  I did so because I accepted the advice that public interest students should focus on amassing public interest experiences such as internships and demonstrated volunteer work, instead of learning the finer points of the bluebook.  And to some degree of course I am happy with the direction this took me — it freed up time for me to do two things that were very important to me (doing extra research-based independent studies with a GREAT mentor of mine and most importantly spend time as a suitor to the person I eventually married).

But something is lost as well in not doing law review.  I have noticed that law review does tend to attract some (not all of course) of the best students; as a student, the people whose comments I thought were the best in class and who most impressed me all seemed to be on law review, “the” law review or a law review.  Even if you are just checking cites, being part of such a group seems to be a good thing and can help the careers of some public interest individuals.  Perhaps most importantly, because law review often requires students submit a note/comment and offers some students the chance to get published in this way, law review seems a good way to force/allow public interest students to work on their writing.  Law review writing is by no means the only form of advocacy writing students can engage in, but the chance offered by law review to get feedback on your writing should not be dismissed lightly.  Finally, there is the question — of great importance to public interest students and corporate law bound students alike — of how law review helps your career.  My own view is that law review is one of those signals (that I don’t have) used to say “this person is smart” or “this person did well in law school,” and while there are substitutes that work, the fact that CVs and bios of people continue to list law review well after graduation attests to the power of law review as such a marker.

I do not think law review is as important as say a great and intense clinic experience for public interest students, but that is only one person’s opinion.  I have struggled with whether I should recommend or not recommend public interest committed students participate in write-on activities, and if you have thoughts, please comment.  Cheers, Ezra


One response to “Reposting: “Should self-identified public interest law students do law review?”

  1. I too am torn. I was a solidly public interest student in law school (always knowing I would go on to work in the public interest post-graduation) and did participate in the law review competition in large part because I was encouraged to do so by mentors who were women of color. I was accepted on to law review and was still able to participate in a very time-intensive clinic and externships but was of course unable to do other major extracurricular legal aid activities. I went on to take a public interest job but first completed two clerkships which I am fairly certain I would never have secured without my law review credential. Those clerkships helped me with my work and gained me credibility and trust with clients as a young lawyer once I was working as a staff attorney; they also enabled me to transition into academia from practice. While on law review, I was fortunate to help an inmate serving two consecutive life sentences have his article about AEDPA published in another prestigious law journal at my law school (although sadly not my own). In a related vein, I like to think that I had some small amount of influence on the articles we accepted (not sure how much, though) and published my own note on indigent defense reform.
    As far as giving advice to students goes, I think it really depends on the student. I never found my time on law review to serve as an obstacle to pursuing a career in the public interest, in part because I overextended myself attempting to engage in other activities as well and thanks to a generous summer grant program was able to spend both summers doing public interest work. If a student is 100% sure (can one ever be?) about his or her path, and law review is not part of that path, I don’t think anyone should ever write on (or clerk, etc.) just because it is the “right” thing to do or because everyone else is doing it. But, I think it certainly can’t hurt in terms of keeping one’s options open (and potentially being very useful for other things later on). I’d also like to think (perhaps idealistically?) that we would see more good public-interest related scholarship with some of those students on law reviews and that would definitely be a good thing. But I also feel torn about asking someone to serve as a martyr of sorts if he or she has little interest in law review otherwise.

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