To the 1Ls who are planning to do the law review write-on next week during spring break: if I reach just one of you with my message, it will all have been worthwhile.
Here are some reasons to drop out of the write-on. And it's not too late. It's never too late.
1) The odds are against you. Only a fraction of people doing the write-on can make it.
2) It's horribly grueling and a waste of a perfectly good spring break. You deserve a spring break. Law review wants to take it away.
3) Despite the meritocratic spin ("with a write-on, everyone has a chance to shine!") it's still a crapshoot. There's a bunch of 2Ls scoring these papers. Do you think there will be anything close to the grading consistency you get when one professor grades 80 exams? No way.
4) The odds are even more against you, since a certain number of slots are reserved for Double Secret Grade-On 1Ls, whose GPAs are so absurdly high that the school considers it morally abhorrent that they would be excluded by a write-on. So they're in. You're out.
5) No, I wasn't on law review (though I did make it through the write-on). But some of my dearest friends in law school were. Not a single one has described it as enjoyable. And it's hard to quit once you're on.
6) Nor has any of those dear friends considered it to be a boost to their resume. Good grades are a boost. Having a personality is a boost. Not drooling at the interview is a boost. But law review is not a boost.
7) The odds are really against you with this new "Additional Essay", where they're looking for "diverse experiences" or whatever the hell it is. I'll leave it to you to speculate who they're hoping to assist with this Additional Essay. But chances are it's not you.
8) But your lawyer mom said law review was prestigious and you must do it! The operative word here is "was". The internet is killing law reviews, just as surely as it's killing the music business. Don't believe me? Read how "Judges Are Ignoring Law Review Articles". Also consider this.
The gist is this: law review articles had a more useful purpose in life when they served as digests of caselaw on a particular topic. But now that everyone has Westlaw or Lexis, this isn't much of a value proposition. Plus, the never-ending struggle between clueless acting professors and clueless student editors inexorably leads to longer, duller, dumber articles. Never have so few said so much about so little. Though many professors still pooh-pooh legal blogs, at least those have a readership.
9) I know you're scared that if you don't do law review, [insert name of fearsome authority figure] will smite you, because you've gotten an A in every class since 7th grade and you got a 178 LSAT and blah blah blah. But I can assure you that [fearsome authority figure] doesn't care.
10) You think I'm lying about the longness and the dumbness, right. But have you ever read the UCLA L. Rev.? Any of it? I have.
11) Your time would be better spent figuring out how to make some money with your legal education. This school's not getting any cheaper.
12) Most of the smartest people I've met at law school didn't make law review. And they're headed to the same $145K jobs as the people who did make law review.
13) Did I mention the odds are against you?
22 Mar 07
As someone who tried the write-on competition and fortunately failed to get on, I agree with most of what you said, with one notable limitation. If a student is contemplating a career in academia, law review is still an absolute must. Not being on law review simply forecloses that opportunity a priori, no matter how stratospheric one's GPA might be. The same is probably true of appellate level federal clerkships. Granted, a very small fraction of your readership aspires to be law professors or federal circuit clerks, but it's something people should keep in mind. If, on the other hand, one's goal is merely a garden variety law firm job that pays market, it has been my personal experience that good grades will trump law review every day of the week.
I agree that law review membership seems to still be important for getting the best clerkship you can get. That being said, I think grades matter a whole lot more. Both of these points are confirmed by the aforementioned double-secret grade-on strategy, which aims to combine the two (grades and law review membership) for the *sole* purpose of increasing the number of UCLA students who get clerkships. So, if you want to clerk, you might as well join the law review.
But, as for academia -- I think the only value of law review membership is that it forces you to write something. For all of its horrors, legal academia is still basically a meritocracy. If you write something great, you will get a job offer regardless of whether you wrote it in connection with law review membership. It may not be at the best school in the world, but if you keep writing great stuff, eventually the best school in the world will want you. On the other hand, if you were on law review, but never manage to write anything good, well...
So, instead of spending your time cite checking, you might as well spend it researching and writing on your own (or even in connection with an independent study topic). If you can't bring yourself to do that at this point, you probably don't actually want to be an academic.
And as for getting a job at a firm, I completely agree with MB -- the era of law firms caring about law review seems to be over.
Still, in the end, I think some people (will) like being on law review, just like some people like being in law school. Those people probably already know who they are by November of their first year.
These are all valid arguments, in theory, but the reality is, there are far more highly qualified candidates than there are academic openings or appellate clerkships. As a result, being on law review serves as one more filtering mechanism to reduce the pool of candidates to a more reasonable number. After all, who's got the time to read thousands of long and boring law review articles to figure out who's talented and who isn't? Consequently, for many judges and academic recruiting committees, no law review on one's CV means a quick trip to the trash bin. I am not saying it's impossible to get those positions without LR, but it's bound to be a huge uphill battle.
I know nothing about the clerkship hiring process. (Though I do wonder if the arguments against law review also apply to clerkships -- it seems like a lot of work for not much incremental benefit. Don't you end up at the same $145K firm job as your classmates, but a year later?)
As for academic hiring, there are plenty of UCLA law professors who weren't on law review or didn't do clerkships. I think the biggest hurdle for UCLA students who want to be law profs is the fact that they go to UCLA.
Harvard / Stanford / Yale are still the premier law prof factories (and clerkship factories, for that matter). Try to find a UCLA law prof (other than Eugene "Life Sentence" Volokh) who went to UCLA law or a less prestigious school. Not many, I assure you.
As for firms not caring about law review, I can attest from speaking with our hiring partner (a former UCLA LR Editor-in-Chief) that they most definitely care.
Of course they care, but it's not nearly as important as the school rank or your GPA. Big firms' partnership ranks are filled with former LR members, so they view it as a hazing of sorts. Even if being on LR doesn't say anything about your intellectual abilities, it certainly demonstrates that you can consume copious quantities of crap and then gladly ask for more, which something big firms value.
That said, not being on LR is not going to prevent anyone from half-decent grades from getting a big law job these days, except maybe at the most prestigious firms.
"I can attest from speaking with our hiring partner (a former UCLA LR Editor-in-Chief) that they most definitely care."
A former UCLA law review editor cares about the law review credential -- you're surprised by this?
The simple story about recruiting goes like this: people hire people who are similar to themselves.
A more nuanced story goes like this: every item on your resume has "signaling" value. The person screening resumes is looking for signals as a way of prioritizing resumes.
Some signals are read consistently. Harvard Law grad? That signals to most people that you're reasonably smart.
But other signals are ambiguous, and their signaling value depends on the person reading. Suppose your resume says you're "Fluent in Klingon". If I also speak Klingon, I may take it as a signal that you're a cool dude. If I don't speak Klingon, I may take it as a signal that you're a dweeb with no life.
Hiring partners are different, and each one is tuned to different signals. At your firm, your hiring partner was on law review and thus values the law review credential. Makes sense. It doesn't disprove my point -- I would expect different firms to value different things. Sure, some value law review. But that doesn't mean they all do. At another firm, being good-looking is a positive. At another firm, being a humorless dick is a positive. And so on. In that way, the recruiting market is a lot like the dating market.
But the inevitable result of this process is that it's not meritocratic at the margins --- a lot of people get or lose jobs for seemingly arbitrary reasons (ie. they speak Klingon).
If this sounds capricious and random to you, look at it from the recruiter's point of view. If you're a desirable employer, you have more good resumes than you can possibly interview. So how do you sort them out? By filtering on other signals that you, the recruiter, feel comfortable evaluating (probably because you share those characteristics.) In a vacuum, they seem irrelevant, but in context, it's a handy shortcut.
Also, I've worked in positions where I had to interview & hire people. And I read hundreds of resumes. I can assure you, it gets tiresome. So any shortcut is welcome.
Let's not forget that it's relatively easier to get one of those $145/160k jobs now because firms are hiring in record numbers. I don't think that will necessarily be the case by the time the Class of 2009 graduates.
While it's true that recruiting is a crapshoot, it's also true that having Law Review on your resume is a positive signal, just like your law school and your GPA. You may not need it now, but that may not be the case in a few years. I doubt that recruiters at those $145/160k firms will toss a resume because it has the words "Law Review" on it. Sadly, however, it's possible some of them might toss a resume because it doesn't have the right magic words (which just proves you don't need to be smart to work at a big firm).
Oh and 1Ls, the write-on is a crapshoot. As is most anything involving grading in law school.
As the inestimable LZ once wisely remarked, "The only reward for doing the write-on is more work."
I don't think that's exactly what I said, but thanks. (Although I have recently been estimated.)
Law Review was the biggest, miserable waste of time of anything I did in law school. If I had it to do over again I wouldn't.
As far as jobs go, I cannot stress enough: GRADES ARE MORE IMPORTANT. Both the write on and Law Review are a tremendous amount of work. Many people end up sacrificing their grades for the Law Review and it isn't worth it.
If you're a 1L, you are probably pretty burned out by this point in the year. If you're concerned about getting a job there are two things that are more worthwhile to do during spring break:
(1) Relax and go do something fun so you can come back to school recharged and head into the last part of the year ready to tackle your classes and your finals and get better grades than your classmates who did the write-on (remember the curve?)
(2) If you must do something academic, outline and study for finals. Work on your classes so you can do better than your classmates who wasted their time doing the write-on (remember the curve?)
I'd also like to point out that the notion that Law Review is somehow intellectually fulfilling and that after your one year of hellish (and it is hellish) cite checking you will get to engage with high-level scholarship and do interesting work is bunk. It's a total lie. There are very few interesting editorial jobs on law review. The vast majority of editors supervise the cite checkers. (Look at the mast head.) That means that you will essentially be cite checking for two years.
And as for the individual scholarship part of it? Your comment probably won't get published. (Everyone writes a comment and they publish two an issue - do the math.) Plenty of professors are happy to supervise an independent paper and you can publish it in another journal - or even the Law Review!
The upshot: Only write on to law review if you LOVE the Blue Book and are REALLY jazzed by the idea of two years of cite checking. Because that's what you'll probably be doing. Only do it if you are sure your grades won't take a hit because all law review will do for you in the career department is give you an edge over the guy with exactly the same gpa.
The best decision I made as a 1L was to drop out of the LR competition on Sunday night, after reading every page in packet. I knew I needed that time to outline, as finals were looming. I spent the rest of Spring Break busting my ass on outlines, and I still go slammed on the Civ Pro final. I shudder to think what would have happened to me on that final if I hadn't outlined over Spring Break...
At OCIP, Law Review did NOT matter. I still pulled a few job offers, including an offer with one of the 5 largest firms in the country. My grades weren't stellar (especially thanks to civ pro), but I made the cutoff and figured out how to market myself effectively with what I had. Personality seemed to play a big part in the interviews - I got two unexpected callbacks because I cracked a semi-funny joke to the interviewer to end the interview! I have no interest in teaching or public interest law. My goal has always been the big firm job, with the crappy hours and big paycheck.
Make Love, not Law Review!
Can you expound a bit more on this "additional essay?" Is race the only factor or is diversity of experience?
And why are these affirmative action strategies so untransparent? If they are fair and just, they should be able to withstand criticism. Same applies to the untransparent process of how UCLA financial aid doles out grants.