Eric Hall '18
Editor Emeritus, Jr.
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, served on a managing board, and found a 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 ten 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. By the time you interview next fall, you won’t 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 get one of those, your responsibilities usually won’t kick in until after OGI. At OGI, if you find yourself discussing your 1L journal experience, something has probably gone terribly wrong in that interview. You should have something else on your résumé that is more interesting to talk about. So, if there’s a student organization or a pro bono activity you find 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 interest in the topic. It shows that you’re tapped in to business law, or tax law, or law and politics. This is especially true if you achieve a leadership position. You show employers that you’re not just on a journal because “at Virginia, everyone’s on a journal.”
The real benefit of being on a journal comes from engaging 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 an area of law. This bizarre arrangement is evidently built on a 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 put our names on a physical product 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 will vary tremendously, however, depending on which journal you choose and what position you hold. The same position on different journals has 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 as a 1L is the best way to be on the senior managing board later. VLBR, for example, offers Articles Editor positions to certain 1Ls which puts them in a position of ownership over an entire article. Ask the managing board of the journals you’re considering what roles they served in when they were 1Ls.
As an editor, your ability to shape and direct legal scholarship also depends on the strength of your journal. 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 after the tryout. 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 your expectations as an editorial board member on the journal. Cite checks are a super-massive time sink. Most journals will only tell you how many cite checks are required, but not how many footnotes per cite check. Having only two cite checks may sound easy until you discover that each one is 60 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. Though you can ascend to more impressive-sounding titles quickly on a small journal, larger journals allow more direct leadership early on. Because large journals have more people, leadership positions within in actually involve managing a group of people.
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 I serve as the outgoing Editor-in-Chief of the Virginia Law & Business Review.
2 VLBR received 127 applications last year, 33 more than the next most popular secondary journal.