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Monday, July 11, 2005

Getting a Prawf Job: Laying the Foundation

Orin, Dan Solove, David Zaring, and Ethan have weighed in on these pages already with lots of useful advice for the aspiring prawf.  Let me add one thing based on my own experience that I found uniquely helpful and it will be of interest especially to law students who are now in school.  For each of my last three semesters at HLS, I took four credits of supervised independent writing.  The expectation was that for each credit of writing, one had to write about 25 pages of manuscript.  12 credits=300 pages=3 full-length articles.  Most schools should allow you to do this as long as you take enough credits to satisfy the ABA or some other blah-blah organization.

The first piece I worked on was supervised by none other than Rob Howse -- and that piece later became my first major publication (about the S. African truth commission and the philosophy of punishment).   As it happened, that piece was published in a peer-reviewed journal, the University of Toronto Law Journal.  I mention this only to highlight that for students who are writing, it may be easier and wiser to submit your first article(s) to peer-reviewed journals rather than the student law journals.  I know this has worked well especially for a few others, such as my friend Yair Listokin, who published in JLS while in law school--though I'm not sure his strategy was to first avoid the student law journals.  In any event, once you place in a good peer-reviewed journal, it becomes easier to signal to student editors later that they should not dust-bin your submissions to them.

Also, be savvy about what you take and when you take it: try to make sure that work you do for regular classes can morph into a publication.  For example, my law review note, about the intersection of criminal law and intellectual property, was written for credit as part of my Entertainment and Media law class. 

One last thing and it's about the importance of path dependence. I initially thought I would go to law school to become a comparative religion and law scholar.  Because of the research I did with Rob Howse early on, though, I kind of got hooked on philosophy of punishment and discovered, hey, this is interesting.   When I was thinking about switching back to religion and law stuff, though, a wise mentor said: you've built all this intellectual capital, why run away from it right now if you still find it interesting?  So here I am now, seven or eight years later, still writing about these things.  I wouldn't do this if I didn't continue to think it's fascinating stuff, and if you find yourself bored by what you're doing, switch tacks quickly.  But oftentimes, you'll find that developing a specialization is actually fun, and it redounds to your benefit when you go on the market.  Good luck!

Update: Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit makes the following shrewd observation regarding the dissemination from here on Prawfs and on other blogs of information about academic hiring :

It occurs to me that the wider availability of this kind of information from academic bloggers -- information that used to be available mostly to people who attended a few top schools that groom their graduates for academic careers -- will serve to weaken the relative position of the top schools. Just another example of the Internet's hierarchy-flattening effect.

Larry Ribstein adds his thoughts here.

Posted by Administrators on July 11, 2005 at 09:47 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Tracked on Jul 12, 2005 9:48:05 AM


Also, if you've been out of school a few years, many schools undestand that your academic references will be light. I was six years out of school; I had one very good academic refernece and one OK one. I added two or three practice references from people who'd seen me write a lot of long briefs and CLE-type articles and who'd seen me give CLE lectures. I was told that at least one of those references went over big.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Jul 11, 2005 5:43:23 PM

That's funny, Dan: I also did an independent study paper each of my last three semesters at HLS -- in my case, to see if I liked / was good at the write-write-write life as a prof. The first paper was awful; the second was my studetn note; the third I picked up six years later and just published as I took a prof job.

The point (that Dan made and that I'm seconding) is that writing lots of papers in law school is a geat way (1) to see if you like and want an academic career, (2) to get practice on academic writing (I learned a lot from that first paper that sucked), and (3) to give profs enough close contact with you to be references who can vouch for you.

Posted by: Scott Moss | Jul 11, 2005 5:41:18 PM

Good points about peer-reviewed journals. I've also learned recently that the joint ABA/student-run journals, many of which are widely read and well respected (especially Admin., Tax, and Antitrust) are obliged to accept a reasonable number of practitioner-authored articles each year. Sounds like another good way to get published.

Posted by: Brian Galle | Jul 11, 2005 12:14:14 PM

Anon, you should check Lexis Nexis:

Posted by: david | Jul 11, 2005 12:13:26 PM

Can I offer a suggestion/request for this series of posts? Would someone speak to references, choosing them, reconnecting with them, etc. especially for people who have been out a few years and didn't do e.g. an RA thing?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jul 11, 2005 11:51:47 AM

I have a seminar piece that I was planning to shop after graduation, just because I was afraid of being binned. Where can I get a list of peer-review law journals?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 11, 2005 10:39:32 AM

As a current student who just went through the submission process, my biggest regret was submitting my piece to student journals. Although I just accepted an offer with a prestigious peer reviewed journal, I could've saved a considerable amount of time and money if I had gone straight to peer review, since the double whammy of having no previous publications AND being a student was too much to overcome at the law reviews.

Posted by: Anthony | Jul 11, 2005 10:28:16 AM

That's excellent advice, Dan. Blind reviewed journals are much less likely to automatically bin student pieces than student journals.

Posted by: david | Jul 11, 2005 10:07:50 AM

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