To Join a Journal or Not to Join a Journal
This is one blog post in a series about law journals written by Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. The goal of the series is to ‘demystify’ law journals, something that many first-year law students, especially those who are first generation and haven’t had many opportunities to interact with the legal profession, are unfamiliar with when they begin law school. We hope to explain some basic concepts, like what a law journal is, what law journal processes look like, and why a law student might (or might not) want to join one. MJGL hopes that providing access to information on these topics will play a small part in promoting transparency and making elite spaces more accessible. If you are interested in writing a piece for the series, want to see a particular topic covered, or have questions or comments, please email GenCoor@umich.edu.
“Are you going to do write on?” is a question every first-year law student will hear at some point. As a 1L, my response to that question was, “What is write on?”
“Write on,” I soon learned, refers to the application process one goes through to join a law journal. Even when this was explained to me, I remember asking a 3L, “What’s a law journal? Why should I be on one?” To be honest, I don’t remember what that 3L told me, whatever it was it didn’t demystify the concept of a law journal. So, to be clear, a law journal is a student-run journal that publishes pieces written by professors and other legal professionals (called Articles) and law students (called Notes). Some journals are generalists, publishing pieces on basically any topic that falls under the umbrella of “the law,” and some have a more specific focus – like Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, which publishes pieces at the intersection of the law and gender issues. Law students provide editing, both above the line (to the substantive portion of the piece) and below the line (to the citations, ensuring that the cited works support the author’s statements and that all citations conform to Bluebook format).
Knowing what a law journal is may not make it easier to decide whether to join one, however. Luckily, my 1L legal writing professor had some sage advice on this topic. He said, very roughly, the following: “Law journal experience might help you get a job, or it might not. They can be a lot of work. See who is on the journal and what journal your friends are joining, because liking the people you’re working with can make all the difference. If you decide not to do a journal you’ll be okay.”
Now a slightly wiser 3L, I think this is great advice. 1Ls who are trying to decide whether to join a journal or not and if so, which journal to join, should start off by looking at the different journal options at Michigan and seeing what journals are doing work that is interesting to you. Joining a journal that publishes scholarship on a topic you’re passionate about can make the experience much more interesting! There are 8 journals at Michigan:
Michigan Law Review (MLR)
Talking to professors and your assigned career counselor to see if being on a journal aligns with your career goals can be a helpful next step. A significant portion of Michigan students pursue clerkships after graduating, and many (but not all) judges prefer to see journal membership among applicants. Some other employers like to see journal membership but many don’t care either way. Talking this through with your legal writing professor or another trusted professor or someone in OCP (Office of Career Planning) can help you decide if a journal will help further your career plans. If you're at a stage where you don't know where you want to be after law school (which is totally reasonable as a 1L) those same people can also help you decide.
I don’t endorse joining a journal just because your friends are, but there is still something worth considering there. However, being on a journal with people you like and like working with really can make all the difference. This is why it’s also a good idea to attend some of the recruiting events and meet the board of the journals you’re considering.
While you’re at recruiting events, ask questions about time commitment if that matters to you (which I think it does for all of us) – things like how many cite-checking assignments members get and what else journal membership requires; questions about the journal’s decisionmaking structure – do members vote on changes to the way the journal is run or does an executive board make all of those decisions; and editorial board positions – are they elected by journal members or chosen by an executive board?
Finally, remember – being on a journal does involve Bluebooking. The Bluebook can be a source of frustration for many students, although journal experience can be a great way to get better at using it, which is experience I am grateful for.
The views expressed in this post represent the views of the post's author only.