Above the Law

I’ll be honest — I hated Law Review. Every second I spent in the bowels of the law school library searching dusty books for obscure references was time wasted, in my opinion. But, on the upside, I got quite good at getting my cite-checking assignments done quickly!

Here are a few tips for getting your journal work done, without losing your mind:

1. Know where to draw the line. As a 2L staffer, you’re going to get a bunch of s**t work. That’s just the way journals work. If you love this sort of thing, and you know you want to be on the editorial board next year, suck it up and do everything that’s asked of you. If you don’t (and this is just a résumé builder, as it is for many law students), set up reasonable boundaries. Yes, you want to do a good job, but you can’t devote 10 hours a day to your law journal and still pass your classes and sleep. Say a book is missing from your law library, but it’s available an hour’s drive away. You can go pick up the book, or you can wait two days for it to arrive via inter-library loan. What do you do?

2. Do journal work when you’re normally unproductive anyway. Everyone has parts of the day that are normally less productive (for me, it’s early to mid-afternoon). Try to do your boring cite-checking work at these times, reserving other more focused times of day for “real” work. When I left my last class of the day, I knew I’d just go home and zone out on the internet or in front of the TV for an hour or two. So, instead of doing this, I’d pick up my Law Review assignments and just get them done. As an added bonus, I often had to walk around campus looking for books, so I got some fresh air and exercise, too!

3. Get really good at BlueBooking, quickly. The sooner you memorize the relevant sections of the BlueBook, the faster you’ll get your assignments done. If you find yourself looking up the same rule more than a few times, make a note of it on a checklist, so you don’t have to waste time looking it up. If you find yourself returning to certain sections of the book over and over, make sure they’re tabbed (or bookmarked electronically) so you don’t have to spend time wondering, “Where is that list of common journal abbreviations?!?” You’ll know it’s the pink tab, so you can flip right to it, check the cite, and move on.

4. Develop a system. Before you start each cite-checking assignment, think about the best, most efficient, way to get it done. Do you want to do the easy parts first? Or save those for last? If you have to look at particular books, figure out which library they’re in, so you don’t have to circle back more than once. Can you find certain sources on-line in a format that’s usable? Great, saves you a trip across campus. You’ll naturally develop your own system as you gain experience, but don’t be shy about discussing strategies with 3Ls or even other 2Ls. You’re all in this together! A great tip that can save everyone time is worth sharing.

5. Befriend the librarians. If you need an obscure source, you could spend half an hour looking for it. Or, you could go ask the friendly professional who’s trained to help you — the librarian. Go ahead and introduce yourself before you need help, and always be polite and friendly when you have a question or request. This is one relationship that can definitely pay dividends!

6. Try to keep perspective. If you’re a member of the editorial board of a law journal (or if you’re the professor whose article is being cite-checked), journal work is a big deal. From the perspective of any other sane person, it’s not. The world will not end if one comma is outside the quotation mark. No one ever reads most of these articles anyway. (Before lots of EICs leave nasty comments, it’s true!) Part of the reason students procrastinate so much on journal work is because it’s really boring. If you can find a way to acknowledge and accept that fact, the work itself becomes a lot easier. Once you recognize that the work itself really isn’t that important, but it still needs to be done, it can almost be a relaxing break from your studies — just put on your headphones, truck on over to the library, and knock the assignment out.

7. Use the secret outline bank! Lots of journals have members-only stashes of outlines, which can make preparing for exams a lot faster when the time comes. Of course you still have to do the work, but take advantage of every opportunity for mentoring and assistance that your journal offers. Having smart people around to talk to about clerkships, classes, and your career plans (almost) makes the misery worth it.

One final point…I’ll admit that my Law Review-honed cite-checking ability did come in handy when working in a law firm. There is a certain satisfaction in being the one person in the room who gets an incredibly pedantic BlueBook rule right (although I’m not sure that result was worth the cost).

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School, which helps you get into law school, get through, and stay YOU. She’s also the co-Founder of the Law School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox, which demystify the law school experience and help you get better results with less stress and effort. You can email her here or here.