by Dustin Leenhouts, Advisory Board Member
Writing a law review article can be a daunting task. Where do you get an idea? What does a law review article look like? How do I research my idea? In this post, I hope to provide answers to each of these questions by sharing my experience, providing you with examples of law reviews at the undergraduate and graduate level, and providing resources to do background research for your essay.
Where to Start
INDENTThe first step to writing an essay for a law review is figuring out what you want to write about. This is not an easy task, however. I remember trying to put together an essay for The University of Texas at Austin Undergraduate Law Review and thinking “I can’t possibly be doing this correctly.” Finding a topic to write about requires that you find something that interests you. This could be a court case, new legislation being pushed through congress, or a legal theory. But where does one hear about these? If you are new to this process, you may not know where to begin looking. I cannot tell you what will work best for you, but I can share where I go to find new court cases and legal issues.
INDENTThe first place I would recommend looking is political websites. There are countless political websites out there. Some of these websites will not be useful for finding topics that are substantive enough for a law review article, but some provide enough detail to give you a great base for an essay. I would personally recommend Reason. This is a libertarian news agency that posts articles from the civil libertarian position. I have found that the articles on this website typically contain more substance than articles on others, but it will not be the best for everyone. If you want to use a political website for inspiration, it is important that you look around and find a website that works for you.
INDENTThe second place I would recommend looking is The Institute for Justice (henceforth IJ) website. IJ is an organization that writes briefs for cases, provides information about judicial activism, and much more. I would highly recommend using this website to look for inspiration. They are constantly discussing the newest court cases and presenting arguments on both sides of the issue, with a bias toward the individual over the state. I would also recommend you check out The Short Circuit Podcast, which is a podcast put together by IJ about the cases currently in the court of appeals. There is no correct way to find a topic for your essay. I can only provide you with what works for me. If you do not choose to use these resources, I hope they have at least provided you with a guide for what you should be looking for to come up with an idea for your essay.
What Do Law Review Articles Look Like?
INDENTIf you are interested in writing for Quill and Gavel, it is likely that you are interested in eventually studying the law. An important part of many law students’ school experience is working on a law review. Typically, each school will have a main journal that only accepts the best of the best to their staff and many smaller law reviews that are more specialized. Some of the most well-known law reviews are The Harvard Law Review and The Columbia Law Review. It is also possible to get involved at the undergraduate level in undergraduate law reviews. Two examples of Undergraduate Law Reviews are The University of Texas at Austin Undergraduate Law Review, which only accepts submissions from UT Austin students, and Columbia Undergraduate Law Review which accepts submissions from any
INDENTTo get a better picture of what kind of articles are typically included in an undergraduate law review or in a university’s official law review, I would highly recommend reading articles from these journals. I would specifically recommend reading Kansas V. Glover: The Newest Challenge to the Fourth Amendment, for preferential reasons.
Where do I find information about cases?
INDENTIf you are new to the process of writing law review articles, it may seem impossible to find and understand information to use in your essay. I promise that this is not the case. Once you get started with your research and develop a base understanding of the information you are reading, you will see that it is not that hard. I have already given you resources for starting your research above: the law reviews and political websites, but I would be remiss if I did not refer you to the SCOTUS blog. The SCOTUS (or Supreme Court of the United States) blog gives you the chronological progression of the case, the petition for certiorari, arguments from each side of the issue, amicus cure briefs, and, at the end of the case, the judicial decisions. Since this might be the first time you are hearing these terms, I will provide the
definitions of each:
The petition for certiorari is a document filed by the party in a case who wishes the Supreme Court to take up the issue at hand
The argument from the Petitioner is the argument the petitioner (the party who wishes the court to rule on a case) provides to the court in an attempt to convince them to rule in their favor
The argument from the Respondent is the argument the respondent (the party on the other side of the case) provides to the court in an attempt to convince them to rule in their favor
An amicus cure brief is a document filed by a “friend of the court” (which is the direct translation of amicus cure) that lays out an argument that they believe the court should consider
The decision is the ruling of the court and an explanation of this ruling. In a decision you are sometimes given a concurring opinion, which is an explanation given in support of the decision that differs in the reasoning used, or a dissenting opinion, which is an opinion given by a judge who disagrees with the ruling and would like to explain why
Each of these documents can be found on the SCOTUS blog. They are all great sources of information that will allow you to research any issue that the court has ruled on in the past. Once you have decided on a topic, I would highly recommend finding a previously ruled upon Supreme Court case and using this website to do background research.