A law school's law review and journals offer student participants valuable experience in researching, editing, and drafting scholarly articles on a wide range of legal issues. Articles that appear in these publications are generally contributed by professors, students, and sometimes judges or other legal practitioners. These articles, especially when written by renowned legal scholars, have been known to influence the course of development of law and have even been cited by numerous respected judicial authorities, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The history of the law review began when a group of students under the guidance of Professor James Barr Ames founded the Harvard Law Review in 1887. In its original form, the publication included articles contributed not only by students but also by Harvard Law professors. The phenomenal success of the review spawned law reviews at other schools, and it became a matter of prestige for a law school to publish its own law review. The early editions of the Harvard Law Review were edited by law students, and this tradition continues today.
The fact that law reviews are student-edited journals offers students on their editorial boards many advantages. By editing articles, student editors acquire the ability to evaluate and refine legal and scholarly writing, which sharpens their research, writing, and editing skills. Additionally, law review membership also serves as an important tool in bringing students into contact with leading scholars and members of the practicing bar.
Almost all law schools publish at least one law review, with many schools also publishing several journals that examine various topics within the law. A school's main law review usually contains articles that deal with all areas of the law. Law school journals are generally devoted to subjects such as intellectual property, religion, national security, the environment, or gender issues.
Law review membership is highly coveted, as the editorial positions are awarded to students on the basis of outstanding academic success or writing skills. Furthermore, the few spots available further distinguish the top students in each law school. Most law schools select law review candidates on the basis of first-year grades, also known as a "grade-on" competition. The grade-on process can be supplemented by a "write-on" competition in which students are invited to enter an original piece of writing that is then judged by current law review staff. The students who draft the best submissions are invited to become members of the law review editorial board.
Members of a law review typically fall into one of two categories: staff members or editors. The second-year members are staff members, and the third-year members usually serve as editors. Thirdyear members hold editorial positions such as editor-in-chief, senior managing editor, senior note and comment editor, and senior articles editor.
Staff members normally write a note or a comment for publication within the law review or journal. Staff members also edit and cite-check articles submitted by outside authors that are slated for publication. The editorial board selects the articles that are to be published and is responsible for the entire editing process. Some schools award academic credit to students for their membership on a law review or journal, while at other schools such membership is considered a purely extracurricular activity.
Large law firms and judges like to hire students who were part of their school's law review. Studenteditors, like dependable attorneys and law clerks, write meticulous articles that they have researched exhaustively. A prospective job candidate that has law review experience on their resume has a strong work ethic and proven writing skills, making them more attractive to potential employers.
Rating Law Reviews and Journals
According to Alfred L. Brophy, Professor of Law, University of Alabama, there is a close connection between the citation rankings of law reviews and the ranking of their law schools. He has observed the changes in both the U.S. News rankings and law journal rankings over the past few years. His findings support a hypothesis that as law schools improve (or decline), there is a corresponding change in the quality of their main law journals (as measured by citations in other journals). Thus, he suggests that "if one wants to know where a law school is heading, in addition to the glossy material that the school sends out to announce new hires, student successes, faculty publications, and talks sponsored by the school, one should spend some time studying the scholarship its primary law review publishes."
Impact-factor is the median number of citations per published article a journal receives from year to year. A citation is a reference to a book, article, webpage, or other published item with sufficient details to uniquely identify the item. The more frequently an article is cited, the greater the interest in its content and thus the higher its prestige within the legal community.
Impact-factor shows the average number of annual citations to a rticles in each journal (rounded to two decimal places). The impact factor is one of the tools to rank, evaluate, categorize, and compare journals.
The impact-factor of law reviews range from 3.39 (Columbia Law Review) for the fourth-ranked law school to 0.52 (SMU Law Review) for the 48th law school. This would indicate that the frequency of citations to articles in the Columbia Law Review is higher than the frequency of citations of other law reviews.
Although the implication of establishing impact-factor as a measure of repute of a journal across all fields of science and literature is debated, it is generally accepted that within a field, impact-factor provides a good measure of the status of a journal. It is for this reason that students contributing to law reviews with high impact factors are successful in establishing their academic prowess and are noticed not only by recruiters, but by all.
Another yardstick for measuring the influence of a law review is the circulation figure it enjoys.
Students and authors who contribute to law reviews that have higher circulations, and thus greater readership, reach larger audiences. It is therefore more prestigious for students to have contributed to one of these reviews.
The flagship law reviews of the top 50 law schools have been profiled below with their impact factors and year of publications.
You now have a macro view of the top 50 US law schools and the ways in which the information about these schools can be used to evaluate both the schools and their graduates. The rest of the material in this book provides a micro perspective on each law school. The following chapters provide information about grading and ranking classifications, entrance requirements, law review and journal membership, various academic and clinical programs, and more.
We reiterate year after year that many of the law schools overviewed in this book are reticent to provide detailed information about their grading systems, class rank, and how they determine who falls within the top fifth, third, or half of the class. Our goal is to provide all of the information we have acquired to help you decode the transcripts and resumes you receive from graduates of various law schools so that you may better assess how students stack up against their peers. The references below will allow you to access our sources so that you may take a closer look at any information that is of particular interest to you.