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Academic Legal Writing

Common Approaches

Though a law review note can take many forms, there are some approaches that appear fairly regularly, which may provide guidance for a writer considering the framing of their claim. These approaches have pros and cons - they will not impress anybody with their novelty, but they do help keep a claim narrow and a paper on track. They can also provide good starting points for investigating a topic, even if the final paper doesn't fit these particular molds.

1. Circuit Split

The quintessential law review note topic - an identification of a situation where different circuit courts have interpreted the same law in similar situations differently, leaving the 'true' meaning of the law to some extent unresolved. A note topic may describe the split, identify any issues that may be influencing the courts, and propose a way to distinguish the situations or resolve the discrepancy. These topics can be very timely and relevant, but are also very prone to preemption - if the discrepancy is resolved or someone else writes on the same subject before your note is published, your topic can be rendered entirely obsolete overnight. These topics are so popular that there are resources dedicated solely to tracking circuit splits - see the 'Circuit Splits' box in the left column.

2. Applying a Non-Legal Theoretical Framework to a Legal Question

Another common approach to law review notes is to address a legal problem from an outside viewpoint, such as discussing obscenity law from a feminist viewpoint or property law from an economic viewpoint, usually by proposing that the legal understanding of the issue be adjusted in accordance with the outside viewpoint. This approach can be very interesting but requires a strong understanding of the non-legal viewpoint as well as the legal issues.

3. Comparative Analysis of Different Approaches

Similar to a circuit split, this approach identifies an area of the law where there are two or more conflicting viewpoints and argues for a particular solution.

4. Identification of New Trends

This approach identifies new trends in scholarship or case law, and discusses the reasons for the growing influence or predicts future influence. Identifying a new trend can be very difficult but getting in early on the development of a new branch of legal scholarship can lead to a note that maintains a high level of scholarly notice.

5. Case or Statute Notes

Descriptions of recently decided cases or recently passed laws that discuss the meaning, role, or expected application of the case or law. Very straightforward, but there is usually not much room for analysis. Many law reviews treat these sorts of articles separately from actual notes.

Circuit Splits

Top Five Tips

1. Choose a Topic You Find Personally Interesting

It will be much easier to spend the necessary hours putting your note together and being enthusiastic about your topic in interviews or meetings with editors if the topic is one you find personally interesting, rather than one chosen for seeming 'important' or 'scholarly'.

2. Stick to a Schedule

Even before you begin investigating topics, identify the due dates and important benchmarks for your journal and sketch out a schedule of when research, writing, editing and polishing will take place, and then stick to it - you'll be much less likely to get bogged down in a morass of research or stymied by endless options if you've set firm deadlines for yourself.

3. Keep Track of Your Research

Often law students start out searching a clicking wildly through databases or Google results, but when it comes time to pull everything together, they've forgotten or can't find the materials they've looked at. While you're investigating topics, keep track of what you've looked at and all the materials that come up in your preemption check - these will be the resources you'll want to look at later.

4. Make Use of All Your Resources

Law students doing research tend to get stuck in a Westlaw/Lexis rut, which can be perfectly fine for investigating law and legal scholarship. For writing a law review note, however, you will also want to consider other sources - treatises, current awareness services, blogs and other legal commentary, books, historical sources, etc. And the best way to make sure you're considering all your options is to . . . 

5. Make Use of Your Law Librarians!

The law librarians can help you find resources, identify ideas, suggest new sources to investigate, and assist with organizing your results or even your thoughts. We are available at the reference desk in the library and by appointment if you'd like to investigate something in-depth.