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What I Did This Spring Vacation:

Why, I wrote onto the UCLA Law Review. (I was smart enough to resign before they gave me cite-checking assignments.)

What was I smoking when I decided to do this? Why did I decide to do this? My Academic Legal Writing book gives advice to students who are trying to write on to law review, but I realized that this advice is based on my now 16-year-old experience of writing onto law review during my first year of law school, coupled with my general knowledge about legal writing. Not nothing, but I figured I could do better. So I took several days — which, valuable as I think law review is, proved to nonetheless be several not very pleasant days — and did the write-on.

I naturally cleared this experiment with the higher-ups at the law review, both because I was creating more work for them (though less than 1% more, since I was one of about 140 people who participated) and because if they wanted 35 people and I made it as one of them, I wanted to make sure they understood that they'd also need to take the 36th. (It would be a pretty nasty turn if I ended up edging out some deserving law student.) But though the top people at the law review knew I was doing it, they didn't know my anonymous exam number, and most law review editors didn't know that I was participating at all.

And as it happens, I think my experiment did indeed prove very valuable to me. I learned quite a bit about the process that I hadn't thought of before, confirmed some things I thought I had known, and concluded that a few recommendations that I'd made were a good deal less sound than I thought they were. I plan to use what I learned when I'm working on the Third Edition of my book (which should be out in Fall 2007). And I plan to blog much of it here in the next few weeks, since I know that at many schools the law review competition is still coming up.

In the meantime, I just thought I'd mention my having done this, just as a reminder that, yes, I'm as odd a duck as I seem.

UPDATE: My favorite comment so far, from commenter wt: "How very Drew Barrymore in 'Never Been Kissed' of you!"

Witness (mail):
Perhaps you could go into a bit more (or, for that matter, any) detail on how you ensured the process remained blind for the entirety?
5.9.2006 3:27am
Eugene Volokh (www):
The UCLA Law Review selects applicants through blind grading. Each applicant submits a paper with an exam number assigned by the law school's Records Office. The law review editors grade the papers and decide which ones pass the threshold. The editors then give the successful exam numbers to the Records Office, which gives the editors the names to which the numbers correspond.

I got an exam number from the Records Office just like all the other applicants did. The law review didn't know which exam number was mine until they submitted the list of successful numbers to the Records Office.
5.9.2006 3:35am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
So...did you make the cut?
5.9.2006 3:53am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Hope this isn't one of those cases, like when the Dean of SLS failed the bar. :-)
5.9.2006 3:56am
Witness (mail):
Could you please elaborate on the relationship between the "Records Office" and the law review at UCLA? I'd be especially interested in knowing whether cross-staffing (of any kind) is strictyl prohibited and adequately enforced.

In general, I just want to know whether you've properly ensured against potential infection in constructing this study. I know you're doing it more for the process than the results, but it seems that the most telling conclusions can be derived from analyzing both simultaneously.
5.9.2006 5:16am
Arvin (mail) (www):
In answer to Witness:

The UCLA Records Office is staffed by employees of UCLA. The UCLA Law Review is staffed by students. There is no way that there could be any cross-polination. The UCLA Law Review DOES have one university employee to help with stuff, but this person does not participate in the write-on grading in any way, and, AFAIK, does not communicate with the Records Office regarding exam numbers anyway.

It's possible that if a member of the Law Review Board really wanted to find out who a certain exam number was, there'd be ways to do so. But this would take an intentional (and possibly unsuccessful) effort, and it'd be pretty difficult (I'd venture to say almost impossible) to do accidentally. So as long as the people on the Law Review Board took the commitment to anonymity seriously (and, jokes aside, I think most Boards entrusted with this type of responsibility do try to take the requirements seriously), then Eugene's anonymity would only be compromised (one hopes) by exceptionally good writing for a 1L.
5.9.2006 6:42am
So:
So does that mean that UCLA's law review is strictly write-on? Or did they create some false grades for you?

I'm not sure how other law reviews operate, but at my school getting on law review is much more contingent on your first year grades than your performance in the write-on competition. Much much more.
5.9.2006 9:39am
OrinKerr:
Congratulations! This is a real feather in your cap, Eugene.
5.9.2006 10:53am
Raw_Data (mail):
I like the 'up yours' to the clones at Crooked Timber.
5.9.2006 10:55am
Anonymous Jim:
Do they order them in some way os it basically "pass" or "no pass"?
5.9.2006 11:05am
Paul Gowder (mail):
Oh, I love it. I love it. Are you going to publish the competition entry? :-) (I'm sure Green Bag, to think of one example, would get a massive kick out of it.)
5.9.2006 11:07am
AppSocRes (mail):
You're a brave man professor. I still have occassional unpleasant dreams in which it is discovered that I failed to complete some necessary requirement for my Ph.D. and must as a result return to school: I invariably fail miserably at every academic challenge that I am set. It's my understanding that such dreams are quite common among persons with advanced academic credentials. For someone to willingly put themselves in a similar situation while awake seems to me a bit of unusual moral courage
5.9.2006 11:11am
wt (mail) (www):
How very Drew Barrymore in "Never Been Kissed" of you! Did you attend the Barrister's Ball as well, being asked by the crush you made during the competition, but also torn between him and your English professor?
5.9.2006 11:13am
A.S.:
bornyesterday: I had the same question, but on rereading the post, I assumed that when he said he "wrote on", he meant that he scored sufficiently highly to get on law review had he actually been a student. Otherwise, why would he say that he "resign[ed]" before they gave him cite-checking assignments?
5.9.2006 11:18am
Cheburashka (mail):
It seems to me that for the experiment to be valid you should try it with a respected law journal.
5.9.2006 11:20am
Houston Lawyer:
Do you take ice cold showers in the morning as well, after walking through a bed of hot embers? Since I didn't grade on to law review, I considered writing on. After twice reading the materials supplied, I determined that that was one test I could live without.

The last real test I took was the Bar Exam, yet when I am stressed out I still have that dream from law school where someone catches me and says "we were looking for you, your ______ exam has already started". I don't miss the tests.
5.9.2006 11:33am
NoDonations (mail):
NYU's law review has a diversity component to it. Not sure how they enforce that while keeping things anon -- if they look to submissions first, see what the pool is, look deeper, etc.
5.9.2006 11:37am
Writing on in a Week:
Professor Volokh: say it ain't so! Some of the recommendations in your current Academic Legal Writing book are "a good deal less sound" than you thought before? I just bought this book from Amazon. Should I return it or what??
5.9.2006 11:39am
Tom (WFULaw):
For those of us who have read your Academic Legal Writing book and whose law review write on competition is just about to start, would you mind sharing which things in particular are "a good deal less sound" than you thought before? Not a whole new book, but maybe some bullet points at least...
5.9.2006 11:52am
Humble Law Student:
Yah, my write on starts in a week as well. Can you tell us what advice isn't so sound? I'm using your book also btw...
5.9.2006 11:58am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Arvin and A.S. are right.

The law review competition is all write-on, though they will add some grade-ons after the end of the Spring semester.

Writing on in a Week, Tom, Humble Law Student: Read the blog -- I'll be posting the corrections (which I'm happy to say are relatively few) shortly.
5.9.2006 12:03pm
Nobody Special:
How does it feel to beat up a bunch of kids?

Seriously, this is similar to dunking over the heads of third grades in a playground basketball game.

I agree, though: publish (or at least post!) the write-on!
5.9.2006 12:26pm
Adam Scales (mail):
And for his next trick, Eugene will (re-?)take the California Bar exam. Surely, the robustly free market wouldn't require an accreditation exam that famous Constitutional Law Professors might fail. Oh, wait...

Eugene is really on to something. I admire, as always, his intellectual intrepdiness. I encourage all of my fellow lawprofs to spend an hour sitting in a large lecture class some time. They will speedily regain the empathy that slowly drains away the further one's law school career recedes over the horizon.
5.9.2006 12:39pm
Dave!:
Seriously, as a purchaser of the book, I (and many others, I'm sure) would like to know: did you make the cut?
5.9.2006 2:34pm
Aaron:
And if you didn't, can I have a refund?
5.9.2006 2:38pm
Michael Lopez (mail):
Grade-ons at UCLA?

Where the hell was this process when I was a 1L?

I could have had a spring break....
5.9.2006 3:29pm
Paul Gowder (mail):
Just think. All it would take to de-legitimize the student edited law reviews forever would be for Eugene to say he failed...
5.9.2006 3:30pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Dave!, Aaron: A.S. is right.
5.9.2006 4:18pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Adam: I am indeed a member of the California Bar, but I assure you I have no desire to do that again (though maybe I'd think it a good idea if I were giving bar advice). And, yes, the experience has indeed given me new empathy for what our students go through.
5.9.2006 4:40pm
chrismn (mail):
Diversity at the University of Wisconsin Law Review (in the early 1990's) was handled as follows: say you need N students, at least M of whom must be a minority.

1) Anonymously rank all essays.

2) The first N-M make law review.

3) Look at the races of these N-M students. Let K be the number of minorities in this group.

4) Now you have M law review spots to assign of which at least M-K must be minorities. But this is the same kind of problem as the original problem with M taking the place of N and M-K taking the place of M. So simply repeat this process until all spots are assigned.

If there is more than one type of quota (whoops! I mean "diversity requirement") the same type of process works.
5.9.2006 5:57pm
chrismn (mail):
One addition to the above algorithm (which nodonations gets right) is that when K=0, you simply grab the highest M minorities.
5.9.2006 6:01pm
Been There:
I read the book before trying the write-on at my school last year.

I thought the book was excellent, though I didn't make the cut for the journal I wanted. It's impossible to say why, since the journal staffs refused to say how many slots they fill by write-on vs. grades--or indeed, if they fill any slots at all with write-on candidates.

The only advice that specifically didn't work for me was the suggestion that candidates find out which style manual a journal uses. I asked the staffer who was designated to field questions, and he refused to answer it because it would give me an unfair advantage over those who hadn't thought to ask!

The only addition I'd make to the book is that candidates should note any peculiar rules. For one of the cases we were to use, we were only supposed to cite a dissenting opinion. This was extremely awkward; how are you supposed to put the dissent in context if you can't talk about the majority? (By the way, now that I've taken the course in the area of law in question, the rule makes even less sense, since the majority opinion is still good law.)

Finally, ask in advance if the journals will notify you of rejection. After receiving an offer from a journal that really didn't interest me (we have several and they all use the same write-on) I e-mailed the editor of the journal I had wanted to join, to ask if I just hadn't heard yet. I got back a snotty reply that they didn't have time to notify unsuccessful candidates, cc'ed to the editor of the journal that had invited me on.

As an older student, all this pretty much convinced me that 24-year-olds shouldn't run anything, except perhaps any infantry platoon.
5.9.2006 7:22pm
a reader:
prof. volokh,

please post a few of your new tips soon--my law review competition starts a week from friday!

thanks!
5.9.2006 10:55pm
Lev:
Another perfessor ponying up some changes to a law school text so as to justify yet another edition and screw the students out of some more money instead of being able to use used texts.

Whoop ti do.
5.10.2006 12:41am