Participating in law reviews may improve legal writing skills, it may enhance law students’ employment opportunities, and it may be an exhilarating carnival ride for Bluebook nerds (such as myself). But results from Bloomberg Law’s Law School Preparedness Survey suggest that it might not be as useful for preparing law students to actually practice law as conventional wisdom presumes.
Fewer than 1 in 4 practicing attorneys said that the incoming attorneys to their firms who had been on law review were better prepared to practice law than those who weren’t.
Law Review Is Only One Page of the Bluebook
The utility of law review scholarship ranges from resolving anticipated legal controversies to satisfying the legal curiosity of academics. Intrinsic in the law review publication process are opportunities to hone legal research, editing, and writing skills—an experience I relished as editor-in-chief of my law review.
But when the survey asked whether incoming attorneys who were on law review are more prepared to practice law than incoming attorneys who did not participate in law review, nearly half of practicing attorneys replied that students on law review weren’t. Thirty-one percent weren’t sure.
It’s staggering that 79% of practicing attorneys are either unsure or did not think that law review gives law students a preparation edge when they enter practice, considering the substantial time commitment that law review entails.
These results are demonstrative of an unfortunate broader truth: that the types of legal research, writing, and editing opportunities offered during law school don’t translate to the types of research, writing, and editing tasks that are actually done by practicing attorneys.
It’s undisputed that when law review scholarship addresses contested legal concepts, it can be a great source of reliance for courts and practicing attorneys. (The U.S. Supreme Court cited law review articles more than 120 times in 2021 alone). So even though law reviews can be an asset to the legal community at large, these survey results show that they don’t automatically help students with their own professional experience.
How to Turn the Page
With that challenge in mind, here are three ways that law students might need to pivot if they want a preparation edge:
Seek specialized law reviews. Law students should seek out specialized law reviews that align with their interests to stay apprised of current developments and connect with authors in that practice area. Law reviews that focus on thematic areas such as legal ethics, business law, and environmental law are structured so that students have access to a plethora of subject-matter legal experts. Law students should take advantage of this concentrated expertise to track developments and form a foundational understanding of areas of the law they are considering practicing.
Modify the focus of law review scholarship. Students on law reviews should reevaluate their content to determine if the reviews are meeting real-life legal inquiries. One methodology would be to conduct a survey asking practitioners whether the types of legal questions addressed by a law review’s content are salient. Refocusing law review content would provide law students with valuable insight into prominent legal inquiries.
Take advantage of law review networking opportunities. Between law review alumni and authors, students have an impressive legal knowledge base at their disposal. Students on law reviews should consider author receptions and alumni events to connect students with practicing attorneys. While these connections are unlikely to teach law students how to practice directly, these types of events create bridges between law students and legal professionals that could lead to job opportunities, mentor/mentee relationships, and crucial insights into life after law school.
Cumulatively, these suggestions will teach incoming and future attorneys to stay apprised of legal and regulatory developments in their practice area, introduce them to foundational legal concepts, and help them create connections with senior attorneys. If the law review framework is updated to allow for these practices, it might give law students the preparation edge they need by providing them with context about the legal industry before entering practice.
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