Law Review Write-On Tips, Part 1 -- Read the Bluebook Several Times Before the Competition:

Many first-year law students will be participating in write-on competitions right after the end of the semester. (Some schools, like UCLA, conduct their competitions during Spring break, but the start of the Summer turns out to be the most common time.) Over the next several weeks, I'll blog a bit about this, mostly based on the "Getting on Law Review" chapter of my Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, Seminar Papers, and Getting on Law Review book.

Let me start, though, with a suggestion for what you can do now. Yes, I realize that you're already doing something now -- studying for exams -- but this is what you might want to do in the breaks when you just can't bear to look at your outlines for another minute. Just as an athlete needs to prepare well before the competition, so do you. The write-on competition will require specialized knowledge that you probably haven’t fully learned. Use the time before you compete to acquire that knowledge.

The first piece of knowledge I want to point to is knowledge about how to cite legal authorities, commonly called "bluebooking" (after the Bluebook, which is the most commonly used citation manual). Some law review competitions have a separate editing test which tests your ability to bluebook, as well as to proofread for other problems. Others only require you to write a paper, but may grade you partly based on the proper bluebooking of that paper.

Often the bluebooking counts for 20% or more of your grade. The law review, after all, is looking for people who’ll be good cite-checkers, and part of a cite-checker’s job is bluebooking. The law review is also looking for people who are diligent, and who are attentive to detail. If you weren’t willing or able to put in the effort to properly bluebook your own work, when the result affects your professional future, the editors will reasonably assume that you probably won’t do a good job bluebooking others’ work, when you’re on the law review and have no personal stake in getting things right.

Figure out whether your law review will grade you based in part on your bluebooking. If it does, then ask it what citational manual it uses -- whether it's the Bluebook or something else -- and whether it has any supplemental instructions explaining how its style deviates from the standard manual. Then read the citation manual (and any supplementary materials) several times. Make it your bus reading, your exercise bike reading, your bathroom reading. The manual contains many rules, and many of them are not intuitive. Even the existence of the rules might not be intuitive; for instance, would you have guessed that the Bluebook has a special citation formats for The Federalist, the Bible, and Shakespeare?

The only way you can master the manual is by reading it carefully and repeatedly, and by marking (with post-its, for example) those items that you found most surprising, and that you think you’ll most need to be reminded of during the competition. You will then (a) have a good sense of the rules; (b) understand the general logic behind the rules (not all the rules are explicable using a general logical principle, but some are); and (c) have seen enough of the examples of how the rules are applied that you might more easily notice when something departs from the rules. Pay particularly close attention to the rules related to (1) cases, (2) statutes and constitutions, (3) articles, (4) books, (5) short forms, and (6) citation signals.

I have my quarrels with the Bluebook. I think it’s often helpful to depart from some of the rules, and I’ve had fights with law review editors about that. You may have similar objections.

Save them for when you’re an editor or an author. During the competition, follow the citation manual word for word. And before the competition, read it again and again.