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.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Haven't added one of these installments in a while, and can't think of anything else to write about today, so how about...

The Children's Guide to Law School, Chapter 3: Legal Journals

At home, you or your parents probably receive magazines in the mail. Some magazines are about sports, some are about the news, some are about famous people and the tiniest details of their lives that no one really needs to know about, some have pictures of pretty people, some have pictures of pretty, naked people, some have pictures of pretty food, some have pictures of pretty furniture, some have pictures of pretty window ornaments, some have odd, pretentious cartoons that only sophisticated people find amusing, some have long articles about how bad Republicans are, some have long articles about how bad Democrats are, and some just have long lists of everything that's on TV. A legal journal is like a magazine about law, except there are no pictures, and instead of the articles being interesting, they're really not. In fact, one rule of thumb is that the more interesting the articles are, the worse the journal is. The very best journals, in fact, are barely written in English. Each journal weighs about as much as a canteloupe and is roughly the same texture on the outside.

At law school, most students work on at least one journal. Some say the reason they do this is because they enjoy the work. Those people are liars. Some say the reason they do it is because it looks good on their resume, and the work's not really that bad. Those people are just rationalizing. A rare handful of people say the reason they do it is because everyone else is doing it, and so if they don't know it, they're worried that somehow this will reflect poorly on them, even though it's not completely clear how and why. Those people are going to be terrible lawyers, but live honest and genuine lives. Working for a law journal because you like to write is like working for a mining company because you like gold jewelry. Yes, there is writing in these journals. No, your work has nothing to do with anything that can even remotely be called 'writing' or compared to, say, the articles in any magazine ever published for a mass market audience to make a profit.

People who do work for legal journals typically are tasked with checking footnotes. There are two different dimensions on which footnotes need to be checked. One is worse than the other, but I'm not sure which. I think it depends on the person and how little of a personality he or she has. The first dimension is technical comptence -- is the footnote actually technically correct? Are the commas in the right place? Is the font right? Is the name of the source spelled correctly? Should there be one space or two spaces after the period? Should there be a period there at all? Should there be two? Should they be printed or hand-written in on every copy? Is that a comma or a cookie crumb? What does it taste like? The second dimension is substantive correctness -- Is the right source being footnoted? Is the quote copied exactly? Is the page number correct? Does the book stand for the proposition that the text says it does? Does the book exist at all? Did the author make it up just because he needed a footnote there? Does it sound real? If we leave it, do you think anyone will notice? Could "Lawyer McLawyerson" really be an author's name? And could he have really written the book, "Lawyer McLawyerson's Guide to Lawyerly Law and the Lawgal system as practiced in Lawyerland, Lawburgh, Lapland, and Lawville?" And is there really a page number 23.6?

As you might imagine, checking whether a book really stands for the proposition the text asserts it does may in some cases require you to actually find the book and even open it up and read a few pages. Luckily, many law books have titles that make their point of view self-evident. For example, "Ships Are Subject To International Law," by Admiral Jones. If that book were to be cited, it would not be that hard to tell if the footnote was okay. But some books, like "Important Law Stuff," may have a less clear point of view. These require reading. But first they require finding. Luckily, every library in the world has every book ever written, and owns an unlimited number of copies so the book you need is never missing from the shelf. Like Blockbuster, which always has copies of all of the new videos, even if you show up Sunday night after a long weekend when it's been raining and the only new movies in the theater are 'From Justin to Kelly," and the new one with Kirstie Alley and Tim Allen, "Low-Budget Romantic Comedy With A Bad Script." Also starring three people who used to be on Saturday Night Live, and four people who wish they were. And Ron Reagan, Jr. And Pat Sajak. And Ivana Trump. Where was I? Oh yeah, legal journals. They're not terrible, but they're really that much fun. Although, for the amount of the time they take up, it's probably worth it and it can be a decent experience and it looks nice on a resume and your name is on a masthead of something, and sometimes they give out free food at meetings. Cool.