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Law Review Leads to Legal Jobs, Recruiters Say

For those who can’t make law review, other legal journals may offer a similar experience.

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There are a lot of options for law students who want to publish legal research. At Yale Law School, for example, students can write for journals on the intersection of law and feminism, humanities, international affairs, regulation, development, health policy, or technology. Or, if they stand out in what The Yale Law Journal website refers to as a "highly competitive" process, they can write for Yale's version of law review. 

Law reviews, which tend to be the longest-standing, student-run publications on law school campuses, can be very exclusive. According to the journals' websites, many are only open to the top 10 percent of the class, or students who excel in a writing competition. In addition to members, who write articles and review citations, law reviews also have editorial boards, which include the most coveted positions on the journals. 

Ryan Walsh, editor in chief of The University of Chicago Law Review, says students writing for journals other than law review can glean the same benefits. But when pressed, he admits that law review has a better reputation and is a "valuable signal" for legal employers. "It's unclear why," he says.

Walsh speculates that law reviews' exclusivity and long histories might shape their reputations. But he is sure that law review in particular helps prepare students for their careers.

[Learn why law schools say students should job hunt more actively.]

"We spend so much time evaluating and improving writing—you know the legal profession is a writing profession," he says,"so that demands for us not only to sharpen our basic writing and editing skills, but it also demands that we substantively engage with the legal arguments that pieces we're considering or writing have in them."

Some legal recruiters agree. "For the most part, law review staffs represent the most highly sought combination of the brightest and most hard working students," says Jason Stern, an attorney who runs his own firm in New York City and specializes in employment litigation and criminal defense.

According to Stern, large law firms are looking for students who are willing to work between 80 and 100 hours a week without complaint. Most law students spend 40 to 50 hours a week attending class and studying, and law review typically adds another 20 hours a week. "That's precisely what large law firms are looking for: smart workhorses," Stern says.

[Read about how some law grads use their J.D.'s for nonlegal work.]

Roberta Kass, a legal recruiter at the Los Angeles firm Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith, says that some firms prefer that applicants have journal experience—generally with preference for law review—and even firms that don't state that preference consider it "adding to the package."

"You are developing research, writing, and editing skills—often under time pressure—all of which are relevant in practice," she says. "It demonstrates a level of achievement and discipline; especially if you are getting good grades, it shows you are doing more with your time than just attending class and studying."

Noah Cherry, managing editor of CommLaw Conspectus a journal at Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, says nonlaw review journals can have other benefits, too.

"Specialized journals are a great way for law students to learn about a specific area of the law and to gain access to practitioners in that field," he says.

[Check out five tips for law students and applicants in a difficult economy.]

Cherry recommends that all law students join a journal. "Journal has not only forced me to step up my game in terms of my research, writing, and attention to detail, but it has also provided a sense of community and purpose at school," he says.

But even as law students get publishing and research experience, they shouldn't count on their clips opening too many doors, says Kass, the legal recruiter.

"Interestingly, most law firms do not want to see a reprint of a law review article as a writing sample when they are interviewing laterals, because they view it as too highly edited," she says. "They prefer seeing current examples of actual work product showing practical examples of the candidate's ability to synthesize and analyze the facts and law."