As a returning second-year law student, starting school in the fall seems less intimidating than it did to the starry-eyed beginner who sat through a Socratic interrogation for the first time a year ago. You’ve got things figured out; you know how to read your casebook, you’ve devised your best study method, and law school exams are no longer a mysterious enigma. Of course, this means it’s the perfect time to take on some additional responsibilities!
This year, among other things, I took on an associate position with the Pace Environmental Law Review (PELR). Most law students know that getting “on Law Review” is something to be desired, but the actual details of what you do there don’t really sink in until you’ve gone through it yourself. The experience so far has been both rewarding and incredibly frustrating, and it has only been a month.
In a nutshell, here’s how the process works for a first-year associate on our Law Review. Associates are selected after a summer application process that involves writing a mock article during the week after finals. Then we are divided into groups of a few associates under one Editor. Each group works on a different article, preparing and checking it to get it ready for publication. When your group finishes one article, you move on to another. Concurrently, each associate is responsible for writing his or her own article over the course of the year. Sounds simple, right?
Well, maybe not. I have learned a tremendous amount about improving my own legal writing after working through just the first article. First, we checked and revised all of the citations in the article to put them into proper, current Bluebook format. This was complicated by the release of the 19th edition of the Bluebook this year, which updated the formatting for internet sources. Not only did I learn the location of the rules within the Bluebook, I also learned that proper formatting is very important to let the reader know what kind of source you are citing! There are different formats for books, journal articles, statutes, and everything else you could think to cite. If it isn’t immediately apparent from the citation, the associate has to look up the source to find out exactly what it is. After all, how else can we know what citation format to use? This heavily motivates me to double-check the citations in my own work. It’s hard to find a source that is only identified by a web address when the address turns out to lead nowhere. If a format is ambiguous, I know how important it is to include all of the identifying information!
I have also learned how critical it is to pin-cite accurately. If you’ve never done this kind of editing, you may not realize that every citation has to be checked for substance. That means looking up the source and finding the cited material within that source. Then, if the citation is not exactly correct, it must be updated to reflect the information’s correct location. The more accurate and precise the citation, the more quickly this job goes. If the associate reviewing the source has a basic understanding of the subject matter, that helps too. Ambiguous or incorrect citations cause frustration, gnashing of teeth, and (on rare occasions) rending of clothes. To avoid that kind of reaction to your writing, it’s best to provide precise citations!
The best part of the articles groups is the people involved. They are smart, thorough, and motivated, and you are all under the same kind of pressure. Sure, tempers run hot when a source is particularly obscure or deadlines are imminent, but having a good group of associates to vent with and an Editor to answer questions and offer encouragement helps you get through. No wonder being on Law Review is something to put on your resume; if you can get through this, your research, writing, time management, and people skills are going to be excellent!