Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Questions and Answers about the Harvard Law Review writing competition from someone who knows nothing more than they're telling us in the packet and readily admits that he really doesn't know what all of the benefits and burdens of actually being on law review are, whether or not it's a good idea for everyone to try to get on or just people with certain specific career goals, and whether or not being on law review would mean having to drop lots of other activities and never see your friends again:

"Finals just ended three days ago. And now I can choose to spend another week doing grueling law-related work? Ooh, I'm excited -- tell me more!"

Gladly. It's the Harvard Law Review writing competition. Each year, the Law Review chooses its new editors (everyone who's on Law Review is called an editor) through a writing competition that takes place the week after finals. Any 1L can choose to participate, and is given exactly a week to do the competition.

"A writing competition! That sounds like fun!"

Uh, maybe. The term "writing competition" is actually a bit misleading. It makes it sound like you have to write an essay, or something like that. You actually have to complete two tasks -- editing a 30-page excerpt from a law review article that's been doctored so that it has lots and lots of mistakes, and then writing your own 20-page case comment about a recent prominent court case.

"What do you mean by 'prominent'?"

I mean it's something I'm guessing I should have probably heard of but I haven't, since my only sources of news are the Daily Show and that 60-second news break at 10 minutes before the hour, every hour, on MTV. And the only court cases they mention on there are about Eminem and Puff Daddy.

"Editing an article doesn't sound so bad. After all, I edited my little sister's college application essay about the first time she got her period, and she got into Wellesley!"

It's not really that kind of editing. They give you a stack of paper -- and I mean a stack like pancakes, not a stack like playing cards -- that has all of the sources (court cases, law review articles, ancient Cyrillic texts) used, and you have to read them to make sure they're not misrepresented, or misquoted, or misinterpreted. And then you also have to do all the standard editing stuff like figure out whether any modifiers are dangling, infinitives are split, the voice is passive, any redundancies, misspellings, etc.

"But you get a week to edit a 30-page article? It really doesn't seem that bad."

But you're forgetting about the case comment part, where you have to write a 20-page paper about a case, relying on 722 pages of support materials to make your argument. You have to do that too.

"Is that '722' one of those fake made-up numbers you sometimes use when you're trying to exaggerate for comic effect?"


"Oh. Remind me again why I'd be putting myself through this thing for a week?"

To get on law review. Or at least to try and get on law review. Apparently something like 250 people (out of 550 1Ls) pick up the competition, 175 or so hand it in, and they accept about 40. So it's certainly not a slam dunk even if you do the competition.

"And I want to get on law review... why?"

I wish they'd be more explicit about this, because tons and tons of people want to get on law review, and I'm not completely certain why. I understand that it's pretty much required if you want to clerk for the Supreme Court -- but so few people are in a position to do that anyway -- and that it's an awful big help if you want to be a law professor at a place like Harvard, although you can certainly still be a professor at lots of other schools -- and there's a lot more besides law review you need to do to make yourself a viable candidate for a professorship. So for these very small number of jobs...

"But if it's just a week of torture, isn't it worth it?"

Oh, totally. I definitely think it's totally worth it if it was just this week of competition. What makes me hesitate is that if you make it onto law review, you're basically accepting a full time job doing this same kind of work -- editing, checking footnotes, and, in one instance, writing a case comment or note of some sort, if I'm not mistaken. For those accepted, they return to campus on August 11th and do law review work until school starts, and then basically work upwards of 40 hours a week on this stuff all year. Plus go to class, in a few exceptional cases. And so it becomes difficult to balance law review with classwork with other activities and commitments, plus hanging out with friends and relaxing and stuff like that. So in cases where people have fulfulling lives already, and want to do more than law review, I don't know if it's worth it.

"But I love Justice Souter."

Doesn't everybody. But even with law review on the resume, it's still awfully hard to get to be his clerk.

"But it seems silly to pass up an opportunity that most people would kill for -- there's got to be a reason it's such a competition. And you don't know what you're going to want to be doing ten years from now, and if all that will be holding you back is not having been on law review. It seems stupid not to at least do it and give yourself a chance -- don't arbitrarily close doors that can be of great value in the future, robbing yourself of future success and happiness..."

Lay off the crack, dude. No, you're right. And that's why I picked the packet up. And that's why I'm kind of torn. Right now, the opportunities Law Review makes easier aren't things that I'm really interested in. But who knows. And silly to pass this stuff up without at least giving it a shot, getting rejected, and then at least saying you tried. Otherwise you run the risk of blaming yourself down the road.

"But let's get serious for a second. The only reason you picked the packet up is not because you really think you're gonna do the competition, but because you wanted to write about it and find stuff to make fun of."

Well... on some level...

"And another thing -- don't you think it's a little bit arrogant for you to be devoting all these words to a debate with yourself about whether or not to try out for the Harvard Law Review. Many people in this world -- most of whom post on the Princeton Review law school message boards -- would give their little sister away just to have this choice."

Yeah, I know, and I don't mean for it to sound that way, because it's not like it's causing me any inner turmoil or I'm having nightmares about it, or anything like that. It's really not a big deal, and I have this 1200-page packet in front of me, and no real desire to be on law review or spend the next week doing this competition... but I figured some people out there in weblog-reader-land would be interested anyway. Because it's kind of interesting. Maybe.

"You're petering out. I think it's time to end this post."

I think you're right. But wait -- I have a one-liner I've been meaning to fit in here somewhere -- "I picked up the law review writing competition packet. And at over 1200 pages and 46,000 pounds, that in itself is an accomplishment that should be enough to get me on law review." And, yeah, the 46,000 is one of those made-up numbers for comic exaggeration. Okay, now I'm done. See you later. Tell your sister I say hi.

"Sure, no problem."