How to Choose a Journal

Eric Hall '18
Managing Editor

Congratulations! You got an offer (or two) to join a journal. Now you have some decisions to make; first, whether to accept your offer, and if you were lucky enough to get two, which one to take. There’s a lot of misinformation around North Grounds about journals, their importance, and the differences between them. With this article, I seek to clarify some of that. I won’t say which journal is the best or the most prestigious (I’m plainly biased). And I don’t seek to answer every question for every person. I can only give you my suggestions for criteria that might matter to you speaking as someone who got on a journal, achieved a leadership position, and found a good job at OGI. 

Should I Join a Journal?

Too often 1Ls overlook the most basic question they should be asking: is it even worth it to join a secondary journal? The answer, I think, is usually yes, but not for the reason you’ve often heard parroted. You should not join a journal if you’re only doing it because you heard employers will “think you’re weird” if you don’t have one of our 10 journals printed on your résumé. Of the dozens of law firms I interviewed with at OGI, only one associate ever asked about VLBR, and only because he was an alumnus of the journal. The reality is that by your interviews next fall, you won’t really have a clue about how a journal is run. At best, you’ll have done one cite check. Certain journals do offer 1L leadership positions, but even if you take on one of these, your responsibilities won’t kick in until after OGI. Come OGI, you won’t have a lot to say about your journal. If you find yourself discussing your 1L journal experience, something has gone terribly wrong in that interview. You should have something on your résumé that is more interesting to talk about. That might be a student organization or a pro bono activity; if you find it more interesting than working on a journal, that’s a perfectly legitimate, non-weird reason to have no journal on your résumé. 

Don’t mistake me, journals are helpful for OGI. If there’s an area of the law that is lacking on your résumé, journals serve as a strong signal of your commitment to the topic. Over the tryout weekend, you committed a huge chunk of time so that you could, purportedly, immerse yourself in business law, or tax law, or law and politics. This goes doubly if you manage to get a leadership position. You show employers that you’re not just on a journal because “this is Virginia, and everyone’s on a journal.” But these benefits are no greater than taking on leadership in most other student organizations. 

The real benefit of being on a journal comes from meaningful engagement with the process of legal scholarship. Legal scholarship is unique in that we let students—often with nearly zero experience in the field—choose and edit the articles that define the cutting edge of law. This bizarre arrangement is evidently built on a social compact that entrusts law students with incredible power in exchange for our free Bluebooking services. This is great for us! We get to work with powerful thought-leaders at law schools across the nation and we produce a real marketable product with our names on it that will (hopefully) be cited time and again. For anyone committed to studying the law, there are few more rewarding activities in law school. 

Which Journal Should I Join?

The extent to which you will have the above experience can vary tremendously, however, depending on which journal you choose and what position you hold. The same position on different journals will have vastly different opportunities to engage like this. If you want to understand how a journal works, interact with authors, and have a hand on the helm, you’ll want to choose a journal that offers 1L leadership. Getting involved early is the best way to get involved deeply. VLBR, for example, offers Articles Editor positions to certain 1Ls, which puts them in a position of ownership over an entire article. Ask the upper managing board of the journal you’re considering what roles they served when they were 1Ls, and then ask what the selection process was for their jobs.

Your ability to shape and direct legal scholarship also depends on the strength of your journal. If you have a strong interest in one particular area, such as environmental law or technology law, this point may be less important. But if you’re more or less indifferent, you’ll want to choose a journal that is stable and respected. You can gauge how well-respected a journal is by inquiring about its peers and the credentials of the authors that typically publish in the journal. Stability comes from the journal’s ability to attract top talent from the journal tryout year after year, the journal’s ability to maintain subscriptions and solicit articles, and—perhaps most important—its ability to publish on a regular, timely schedule. Be sure to ask about these features at your journal’s office hours and open houses this week. In particular, ask when the journal published last. This year, with impending audits and the administration limiting funding to journals, stability is more important than ever. Choose a journal that will be here next fall and after you graduate. 

Finally, it’s worth asking about what is expected of you as an editorial board member on the journal. Most journals will only tell you how many cite checks you’ll do, but not how many footnotes per cite check are expected of you. Having only three cite checks means nothing when each one is 50 footnotes. Will there be a note requirement? If so, can you submit a paper written for one of your classes? A good rule of thumb is that a larger journal requires less work from each individual editor. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t responsibility available to those who want it. Although it may be true that you can ascend more quickly in a smaller journal, larger journals allow for more direct leadership early on as well as a greater likelihood that you’ll actually see your name on a published product.

There are plenty of peripheral considerations that may influence your decision more personally (e.g., does the journal still print? Will it have a symposium?). But the criteria I’ve named here should be central to your decision. Don’t worry too much about which journals have the best food or the fanciest office. Those are irrelevant. Instead pay attention to features that will let you leave your mark on legal scholarship.


1 Haven’t received an offer yet? Pocket this article. It’ll come in handy when you do.
2 I serve as the Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Law & Business Review.
3 VLBR received 127 applications this year, 33 more than the next most popular secondary journal.