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Write-On Competitions and the Bluebooking/Cite-Checking/Editing Test:

Some law review competitions involve both a writing assignment and a bluebooking/cite-checking/editing test. Others give you just a writing assignment, but give considerable weight to the bluebooking and proofreading of the paper. Generally the substance, the organization, and the writing style are given more weight than the more technical bluebooking, cite-checking, and proofreading. But the latter are often given a good deal of weight, too, and for good reason: Bluebooking, cite-checking, and proofreading will be a huge part of your job as a law review editor, and the law review is naturally looking for people who are good at that, and (more broadly) who are careful, meticulous, and hard-working.

But here's the twist: The substantive evaluation of your paper will inherently be subjective. You might have a great argument, but if the readers take a different view, they may not evaluate it as positively as they should. That's true for professors -- the grading of essay exams is often quite subjective (not by any means random, but subjective). And it's even more true for law review write-on grading, given that the essays are usually split among different teams of several readers, so that different essays are graded by different people.

On the other hand, what bluebooking, cite-checking, and proofreading errors you caught (or made) is more objective. If you do really well on this, then you can insulate yourself considerably from the vagaries of the more subjective grading of the substance.

So if you think you can be good at the technical stuff -- if you have a careful eye and a meticulous temperament, and can catch most errors if you have the time (and if you've familiarized yourself with the Bluebook) -- then invest some time into the technical part of the test.

Naturally, you should still not bomb the substantive part, so don't let your bluebooking completely distract you from your writing. But if you think you can be good at bluebooking, work hard at it. That way, even if the readers are for their own idiosyncratic reasons not wowed by your substance (brilliant substance, of course, but brilliance so often goes unappreciated!), they will be wowed by your objectively great performance on the technical portion.

Jeremy T (mail):
I'm grading papers for my law review right now. The process is somewhat subjective. However, I am trying my best to grade based on issue spotting, quality analysis, and quality writing. I think most law review graders operate similarly.

Few of us are professionally or emotionally invested in the subject matter, as a professor might be with respect to the subject he teaches. Our law review competition issue has to do with the unauthorized practice of law. Frankly, it's pretty dry. Competitions that focus on constitutional/political issues are much more likely to inject subjectivity in the grading process.

The keys to writing a great paper, in my opinion:

Be concise. Do not include unnecessary facts. Avoid grammatical errors and style errors. Carefully follow each and every rule of the competition. Find ALL the issues, even if you only mention them briefly. There is typically no real penalty for briefly analyzing a minor or unimportant issue, so cast a wide net. Analyze the issues thoroughly, but devote more space to the complex and important ones. Don't write stupid things. Be precise in the analysis. Use EVERY source provided to you—the problem writers included them for a reason. Briefly discuss policy considerations. Be extra careful about getting the citations right according to the Bluebook. Carefully edit and proofread at least five times.

If you do all of those things, you will get a great grade from me.
5.11.2006 8:23pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
A question just ocurred to me... I'd assume that in modern manuscript drafting you use real italics, not single underline, as we did in days of yore. But how do you indicate big and small caps? (We used to use double underlining for that).
5.11.2006 8:26pm
TheGoodReverend (mail) (www):
On our journal we use underline for italics and bold for large and small caps. They get converted at the production stage.
5.11.2006 8:41pm
Tim:
Use EVERY source? In my write-on, it was very clear that some sources were nothing more than red herrings. This may be school to school variation, but I would hesitate to endorse a blank rule.
5.11.2006 9:33pm
Jeremy T (mail):
Tim,

Obviously each competition might have idiosyncracies that render some of my suggestions inapplicable. Duh.
5.11.2006 11:01pm
Matto Ichiban (mail) (www):
I was a member of the UCLA Law Review a few years ago, and in the year we graded write on submissions we found that there was a strong correlation between the production test score (the bluebooking portion) and the writing score. No one did exceptionally well on one section and very poorly on the other. I think Professor Volokh is right that a good bluebooking score would be very helpful if you turn in a marginal essay, but it probably would not save a sub-par essay score, so concentrate on your writing first. Some advice:

1) Don't underestimate the time it will take to do the bluebooking. Pace yourself, and do some each day. Scrambling at the end to finish will hurt you on that section, and your writing will probably suffer as well because you will rush or skip a final edit.

2) Not all of the essay portion is subjective: your writing quality will be evaluated along with your legal reasoning. Poor writing will sink the most original and brilliant legal argument. I was surprised at how many 10 page papers contained a 3 or 4 page introduction, repeated arguments, or were riddled with typos. Avoid these problems, and you will be in the running.
5.11.2006 11:44pm
Spike (mail):
As a former law review person, I would like to point out a system our 'law rev' did to prevent divergent scores based on subjective grading. Each paper was reviewed and graded twice. If a particular paper had a score differential grater than X amount of points, the paper was reviewed by the EIC for a final score. The EIC was not given the two original scores, but simply told that a scoring anomaly had occurred.

As an aside, I am very fond of calling Law Review the "Chess Club of Law School"
5.12.2006 10:11am
Brad D. Bailey (mail):
My review write on was done as a case note. The editors had chosen several cases that they wanted notes on. These were assigned randomnly to those students who wished to compete. The best notes were chosen for publication, but the top 30 scores were on the review.

The comments above are important not only to writing on to the review, but in the practice of law. Good writing wins cases, bad writing loses.
5.12.2006 1:59pm
Brad D. Bailey (mail):
My review write on was done as a case note. The editors had chosen several cases that they wanted notes on. These were assigned randomnly to those students who wished to compete. The best notes were chosen for publication, but the top 30 scores were on the review.

The comments above are important not only to writing on to the review, but in the practice of law. Good writing wins cases, bad writing loses.
5.12.2006 2:01pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
Curious if others agree, but one thing that I have found that saves time is to use only long form citations until the very last read through. Then convert to short forms where appropriate. Otherwise, you have to check cites every time you move a sentence.
5.16.2006 11:47am