What actually is a law review?

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By Kanon Clifford on

An Exeter law student helps dispel the myths

You may have noted the term ‘law review’ from popular legal films such as A Few Good Men or heard of Barack Obama’s involvement as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review in his law school days. Perhaps your university even has one, and you have heard whispers of it around the halls of your law school. But what actually is a law review?

The concept of a law review arrived in Europe from North America during the mid-20th century and is intended to give legal academics from all levels of education the opportunity to be published. They do not only publish articles from students but also barristers, solicitors, judges, law lecturers and other legal professionals.

At university, law reviews are typically student-run, though in the UK, unlike the United States or Canada, they can be law school-administered or run solely by academic staff. Reviews may publish on general areas of law like the Law Quarterly Review and Exeter Law Review, or be more specific like the Stanford Environmental Law Journal.

Submissions will be read and considered by a managing editorial board of students in the final years of their academic studies and numerous other editors who are students early in their legal education. Editor positions typically involve checking for spelling and grammatical errors, proper sectioning, and ensuring appropriate authority and citations in each article. The managing editorial board does not only act as a second set of eyes for editing but works to run academic events, bring in speakers, ensure deadlines are met, and run the day-to-day operations of their online and print sources.

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Each law review’s process for selecting these positions is different, but usually involve an interview or write-in competitions at the end or beginning of each academic year. If you go in for an interview, you can expect editing exercises and questioning of your GCSE, A-level and university grades. Expect to bring with you a writing sample or be tested by a timed editing exercise. Though academics are essential, interviewers are also looking for merit and an eagerness to learn.

I will be the first to admit, law reviews are not for every kind of law student, nor am I advocating that you have to be involved. However, being on a law review can be a great CV booster. Large law firms, barrister chambers and jobs in the judiciary all love interviewing students who are involved in law reviews. That is because the involved candidate has had rigorous training and ample opportunities in legal research and writing. Dealing with many different areas of the law and having the chance to surround yourself with legal editing builds skills, and not to mention you will finally master using OSCOLA — which is very worthwhile.

Talking to friends and family who are now practising, it’s clear one of the rarest skills, but one of the most crucial, is the ability to write well. Not only for providing your legal opinion or correspondence between clients and staff but for legal research and commentary. Your writing and editing ability should skyrocket in your first few weeks of joining a review thanks to hands-on learning about how to efficiently summarise, use clear structure, and be concise.

It also perhaps goes without saying joining a review will be hugely beneficial to those hoping to pursue an academic career. This is not only because you are working with legal articles, but because you are building a repertoire with those who are already there. Most law reviews provide many opportunities for you to work alongside your law school staff and aid them in their own legal fields. From my personal experience, this has been the most substantial benefit.

Working on an editorial board doesn’t mean being perfect. I have edited articles from judges, barristers and even a Supreme Court judge, and there does tend to be a few errors in the pieces.

What law reviews expect is a significant time commitment, hard work, and a little dedication. What you can expect is a new and invaluable experience as part of a legal-minded group. And hey, if you’re going to be a lawyer, you might as well start honing your legal writing and editing skills now.

Kanon Clifford is a law student and the current managing editor of the Exeter Law Review.

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