Law Review & Clerkships: Beyond the Lines of the Résumé

Law Review & Clerkships: Beyond the Lines of the Résumé
Gretchen Myers

It is common knowledge that law review—especially a published law review article—is great to have on your résumé. So is a clerkship with a judge. But these experiences are so much more than just lines on your résumé. They can help you develop skills that will be invaluable throughout your legal career no matter what you decide to do. I strongly urge all law students to consider pursuing these opportunities, keeping in mind, you only get out of them what you put into them.

Law review is a lot of work. It is even more work if you are an editor. But so much of legal work is research, writing, and editing. And legal writing is a very different type of writing than what you learned in high school and undergrad. Law review is an amazing way to hone these specific skills. You will get the opportunity to write your own article, and polish it until it is publishable quality. You will learn the nitty-gritty details of legal citation. You will get better and more comfortable with legal research. As an editor, you may help fellow students with their papers and help edit articles by professors and practitioners. If you join the publication committee, you will learn what law reviews and journals consider when choosing pieces to publish. You will develop an eye for detail and get a sense of what good legal writing looks like, as well as common pitfalls to avoid.

I recommend trying to get on law review as early as you can and applying for an editorial position as soon as you get on. Also, consider other specialty journals that focus on niche areas of law. Even if you do not want to commit to law review or another journal, consider taking seminar courses where you write a final paper. Any opportunity where you get hands-on experience with legal research and writing will be helpful. Also, keep in mind that any paper you write can be submitted for publication. There are many law reviews and journals throughout the country that consider student pieces for publication. There are even some contests that offer cash prizes! Whatever avenue brings you to write a paper, write it with the possibility of publication in mind. At a minimum, you will learn how to write, edit, and finish a piece of publishable quality. You may receive a publication as well!

Many of the same skills that help you succeed on law review, help you succeed as a clerk (also known as a staff attorney). The job is very research-and-writing intensive, especially if you work for an appellate judge. Of course, you want to make a good impression, so the ability to write publishable-quality pieces will come in handy. You will learn to prepare memoranda for judges and perhaps even assist in writing opinions. The longer you clerk, the better and quicker you will become at this work. These skills will serve you well no matter what legal career you choose. You may find that you enjoy clerking so much you want to make it your career (this is what I have done); but most clerks use their clerkship as a learning tool and stepping stone to another legal career.

As a stepping stone, a clerkship can be invaluable not only because you will hone your research and writing skills but also because you will learn about the inner workings of the judicial system and be exposed to a variety of types of cases involving different areas of law. It is extremely useful to get a feel for how judges do their work, what they see as important, and what they look for in attorneys' briefs and arguments. Understanding these basics will give you a competitive advantage in nearly any legal context. The variety of cases that you will see as a clerk can help you understand different areas of law, decide which areas might interest you, and simply keep the job interesting. This is one of my favorite aspects of the job because there is always a new and different question to tackle—the job will never become rote. Another way to get a similar experience is a judicial internship. If you are interested in clerking, interning is a great way to get your foot in the door and make a good impression, while gaining hands-on experience.

In conclusion, law review and clerkships are fabulous learning experiences, and I highly recommend them to all law students. Keep in mind however, that these opportunities require you to put in hard work, and the benefits are proportionate to the effort you put in. It is worth it in the long run!

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