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February 20, 2007

Journal Me This: Insider Advice and Perspectives

By Mitch Holzrichter

Law journals hold an important place in the life of any law school. They continue to be the most prominent media for publishing legal scholarship, and accordingly they represent something special to professors, judges, and practitioners.

Potential employers, whether for academia, clerkships, or firms, look to journal participation as a mark of accomplishment and distinction in an otherwise equally-qualified group of law students. According to the Office of Career Services, 64% of Michigan students who received U.S. Court of Appeals clerkships in 2005-2006 were members of the Michigan Law Review, and another 20% were members of one of the other five Michigan law journals. Only 16% had no journal membership. Journal membership remains a strong part of any student’s resume.

Time, Why You Punish Me?

First-year students about to enter the journal selection process, beware the time commitment. Journal membership often requires more time than any other student organization, though this commitment varies considerably among the journals. The three main components of journal membership as a second-year student (before you begin work on the editorial board) are: (1) orientation, (2) cite-checking and source-gathering, and (3) note-writing.

Many journals host an orientation program in the days before Early Interview Week (EIW), which all new members (or “associate editors”) are required to attend. Orientation programs introduce members to the publishing process, the requirements of that journal, and how to source-gather and cite-check.

The Michigan Law Review (MLR) hosts a four-day orientation program before EIW, and the Journal of Law Reform (JLR) requires a three-day program, with full days devoted to orientation, cite-checking, and source-gathering. The Journal of International Law (MJIL) and the Journal of Race & Law (R&L) similarly host multi-day orientations, but for partial days. The Journal of Gender & Law (G&L) hosts a one-day orientation program during the first weekend after classes begin. The Michigan Telecommunications & Technology Law Review (MTTLR) hosts several lunches after EIW to orient its members.

The core of journal membership is editing (source-gathering and cite-checking) the issues for that year’s volume. The more issues a journal publishes, the more time an associate editor should expect to spend source-gathering and cite-checking throughout the year.

MLR publishes eight issues per year, and each associate editor has one editing assignment per week. One current 2L associate editor estimated she spends 7 hours per week on those MLR assignments. JLR and MJIL each publish four issues per year. Kate Zell, 3L, the outgoing JLR Editor-in-Chief, estimated that associate editors spend 20 to 40 hours per semester source-gathering and cite-checking. G&L, R&L, and MTTLR each publish two issues per year. Emily LaCroix, 3L, the G&L Publication Manager, estimated that G&L members spend 15 hours per article, and typically work on two or three articles per semester. Jeetander Dulani, 3L, the R&L Editor-in-Chief, estimated that associate editors spend between 20 and 40 hours editing per semester. Tom Loos, 3L, the Managing Editor of MTTLR, said that MTTLR attempts to keep the time commitments of its associate editors to 20 hours per semester. Dulani also emphasized that the journals attempt to keep assignments evenly distributed among editors.

In addition to cite-checking, most journals require their members to write a “note,” which is a student article. A note is an opportunity for students to be published early in their legal careers, especially because most journals work with their members to all but guarantee publication of the note. “Having the chance to publish something as a law student was one of the main reasons I joined a journal,” said Daniel Silverthorn, 2L, who is now a MTTLR Articles Editor. But for some students, the note requirement may be an unwanted burden.

MLR requires its associate editors to complete a full draft of a note. JLR and G&L both require a partial note, which consists of a draft of a significant section of the note. R&L and MTTLR each require associate editors to research and propose a note topic and to perform a pre-emption check on that topic. Writing even a partial note can be very time-consuming, and many journals encourage their members to couple their note research with a seminar paper or other outside academic work.

Additionally, some journals have commitments that extend beyond a student’s 2L year. MLR requires all members to commit to two-years of membership. G&L has additional journal membership requirements which may be fulfilled in either 2L or 3L year. All journals invite 2Ls to return during 3L year as “contributing editors” if they do not join the editorial board.

In addition to these tasks, journal members are typically expected to contribute time and efforts toward symposia or other events hosted by the journals. Taken together, the time commitments can be significant.

There are 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, But to Leave a Journal…

A savvy (or sleazy, depending on your point of view) law student may ask: why not sign-up for a journal before EIW, and then quit once a summer job is secure?

Prematurely withdrawing from a journal leaves that journal under-staffed, and is unfair to other students who applied with a sincere desire to work on a journal but were not selected. Withdrawal also appears disingenuous to potential employers, who may have relied on journal membership in selecting which students to offers jobs.

When a member fails to fulfill his or her responsibilities, other students on that journal suffer. “If someone isn’t able to fulfill their requirements, their fellow classmates are the ones to pick up the slack,” said Dulani.

But the journal editors are quick to emphasize that most students take their journal membership seriously. Tara Plochocki, 3L, the MJIL Managing Editor, believes that “when students get on a journal through a competitive process, they’re excited to be there.” “The expectations are strikingly clear,” she added, emphasizing that members know and accept the commitments of journal membership before joining. LaCroix agreed, adding, “Being on a niche journal, you’re there to be committed to producing scholarship in that field.”

Most journals have adopted internal policies, which all members are required to sign, to thwart premature withdrawal and to encourage members to satisfactorily fulfill their commitments. These policies typically include several stages, and only when a member’s conduct significantly harms the journal would the journal take action to remove that member. Then, if a student withdraws voluntarily or is removed, the journal notifies the Office of Career Services.

The journal editors emphasized that a journal will only take action “when there is consistent failure to do your work.” Removing a member is only a last step after serious failures, and most journals try to use their disciplinary policies sparingly. “Flexibility is important to us, especially when there are personal circumstances involved,” Zell said. Loos added, “We do everything we can [to avoid the disciplinary process].”

Some journals believe that the Law School requires the journals to report the removal or withdrawal of a student to Career Services, the student’s potential employers, or even to the state Bar. “The Bar cares, and technically students are supposed to report [their removal],” said Dulani.

David Baum, Dean for Student Affairs, observed that whether a student should report a removal from a journal would depend on the particular bar and the questions it asks. He noted that “[m]any such questionnaires include a question about employment history and inquire about how each job came to an end. Whether participation on a journal qualifies as ‘employment’ is, I suppose, a matter of interpretation. Consulting with a lawyer might be advisable. Lawyers at Student Legal Services in the Michigan Union are available to all enrolled students at no charge beyond the cost of tuition.” Dean Baum adds that “if there is any question about whether or not to disclose termination from a journal on the application, an applicant should err on the side of disclosing it and honestly explaining the circumstances. The fact of such a termination will almost certainly not preclude someone from passing a character and fitness examination. However, if the bar examiners feel that an applicant has failed to disclose information that he or she should have, that would be viewed as a ‘candor problem,’ and that really can create a significant issue.”

While the Law School does not require a journal to report the removal or withdrawal of a member to the Office of Career Services, the student’s potential employers, or to the state Bar, Career Services Dean Susan Guindi acknowledged that many journals do inform the Office of Career Service when a student has been removed or has withdrawn from a journal. Most often, she said, it is a 3L who is removed or who quits, out of “senior-apathy.”

But she emphasized that the Office “won’t use [that information] to undermine a student’s employment.” She added that the Office of Career Services is there to help students, not hinder their career chances. Guindi also noted, “The Law School does not report such information to the Bar. The Journals are student-run organizations, and so the Law School neither monitors them nor reports on individual member’s behavior.”

If a student “misstates” the dates of journal involvement on his or her resume, OCS will reach out to the student and encourage him or her to correct their resume. Zell agreed with this approach, noting that students “shouldn’t take credit for what [they] didn’t do.” She added, “We ask associated editors [who have withdrawn or been removed from the journal] to remove their journal membership from their resumes or to put the actual dates of their membership,” thereby reflecting when a student quit or was removed.

The problem of removal or withdrawal is rare, and the journals do everything possible to avoid disciplinary problems. “We may comply with what the Law School says, but we’ll use as much discretion as possible,” said Loos.

“At the end of the day, community is what makes the journals successful,” said incoming JLR Editor-in-Chief Chad Lindner, 2L. Remember, if you are joining a journal, you are joining a small group of law students who are dependent upon your work, and with whom you’ll spend many hours in Sub-3 in a very unique experience.

Mitch Holzrichter is a 2L and an associate editor of the Journal of Law Reform.