Excerpted from MsJd.org (click here for original article)
Jumping off of the theme of using your time wisely during your judicial clerkship and closing gaps in your resume, this month’s post details the process for getting published. If you have never published before this may seem like a daunting task. However, it’s a great opportunity if you do not have law review experience or the “publications” section of your resume is blank/nonexistent. The time is right! While attorneys in private practice probably have it better in terms of publishers to choose from and opportunities to co-author with a partner, judicial clerks have time on their side.
Because navigating the publishing world is a long process in which attention to detail is key, I split this explanation into two parts. Part I (April post) will cover the process up until submission. Part II (May post) will cover the submission process and what you should do while waiting to hear back from publishers.
First, think about where you want to work and the types of industry journals and/or law reviews your target firms hold in high esteem. To do this look at the profiles of the managing partners and counsel in the practice groups you are interested in. Are you aiming for a state or federal practice? If you are targeting the latter, consider a national publication. The broader the audience the better!
If you do not clerk in a specialized court such as tax or bankruptcy, and are not sure what type of firm or practice you intend to enter into, then focus on leveraging the connections you already have to find a publisher. Consider contacting law school classmates who were editors on your law school journals. They might be able to put you in touch with current student editors so that you can see what types of articles the journal is accepting and what the submission deadlines are. Also, ask if your appointing judge is an editor for a publication. You never know…your appointing judge may offer to co-author.
Second, research your target publications. For example, if you plan to submit your article to the XYZ Trade Journal, Google this publication to see if XYZ Trade Journal has an online presence. Also, search for the publication on Westlaw and Lexis. Some publishers are associated with attorney networking groups. For example, the California Bankruptcy Forum, a group of California bankruptcy practitioners, publishes the California Bankruptcy Journal.
Keep an eye out for two things: (a) Submission deadlines. Some journals are very organized and have strict submission deadlines 6-8 weeks prior to the publication date. (b) A style guide. Some journals post editorial and citation guidelines to help authors understand early on what their final product should look like. Performing due diligence on the front end will enable you to tailor your submission appropriately and increase your chances of acceptance.
Third, if you feel as if you are charting new territory, consider readingAcademic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review, 3rd Ed., by Eugene Volokh. This book thoroughly explains the publication process and provides step-by-step instructions if you are faced with the prospect of promoting your own article and trying to find a publisher without any inside connections.
Fourth, settle on a topic. After selecting a few publishers that you plan to target either through your professional network or through a stellar cover letter, brainstorm topics. What do you plan to add to the ongoing scholarly discussion on this topic? Make sure that your work either contributes a fresh view point to the field or synthesizes information making the topic more accessible to practitioners. Think about whether the law will change significantly during the time you are researching and writing. If the answer is “yes,” the benefit is that your article, if published, will pertain to current events and might receive more attention. On the downside legislative changes or precedent-setting case law could moot your argument, making it harder to convince a publisher to accept your work without further revision. Be sure to run the topic and your list of target journals by your appointing judge before you delve too far into your research. This is especially important if your topic pertains to a case or legal issue before your appointing judge.
If you are fortunate enough to make contact with a publisher (via a cover letter or your professional network) before you start writing, try and get the publisher to approve your topic. Early topic approval makes it less likely that the publisher will be inundated with articles on the same topic.
Fifth, make a schedule. Take into consideration the following: (i) when you plan to start your job search; (ii) how busy you are in court…big trial coming up?; (iii) the publisher’s deadlines…are they rolling? Monthly? Bi-annual?; (iv) anticipated changes in the law; (v) holiday and summer vacations; (vi) Plan B: if all of your first choice publishers reject you allow enough time to send out a second wave of proposals. I recommend setting up a timeline that includes several drafts and allows for at least two weeks, preferably a month, for your readers to review your second or third draft. Be sure to account for time needed to conduct interviews if you plan on doing field work as part of your research.
Sixth, find proof readers among your colleagues and professional friends. If your article is geared toward informing the general public then make sure that your proof readers include attorneys and members of your target audience. Notice that I suggested finding proof readers even before you start writing…attorneys are busy and an email to a practitioner may go unanswered for weeks. As a result, have a long list of potential readers and start emailing them early. In your initial email, apprise them of your anticipated timeline and make it easy for them to decline. If you can, try and select at least three readers all at different levels of expertise (partner, associate, recent graduate/law student). This will ensure that you receive diverse, and therefore more accurate, feedback.
Seventh, research. Most likely you will be working off of research you already started for another work-related purpose so you will not be starting from scratch. Additional resources to consult include the librarian at your court, your appointing judge, and career clerks who can direct you to relevant industry journals.
Eighth, write. Put something on the page! Yes, the blank page or screen may present your most formidable barrier. Now that you’ve done all the background research and set the stage for excellence…get to writing. While writing consider the search terms that may be used to locate your work, especially if the publication is accessible via Lexis/Westlaw. I recommend listing out key terms that encapsulate your topic. Next, find synonyms for these terms. This exercise will help you vary your sentence structure, avoid repetition, and increase the chances that your work will appear in search results.
Ninth, write some more. Yes, unfortunately you may need to write cover letters to convince publishers to accept your article. No, cover letters are not only used for your impending job search. Sigh…I know. Just think of it as practice for your job hunt. Consult Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review, 3rd Ed., by Eugene Volokh for sample cover letters.
Stay tuned next month for an explanation of the submission process, tips on publicizing your article, and suggestions on jumpstarting your next writing project.
By Christine Schle