As I mentioned last month, one occasionally sees a student law review article that is cited a great deal by courts — even a lot more than are most articles by tenured academics. Of the student articles I've seen that are published since 1990, the one most cited by courts is Janet Hoeffel's The Dark Side of DNA Profiling: Unreliable Scientific Evidence Meets the Criminal Defendant (Stan. L. Rev. 1990), which has been cited by over 25 cases and over 90 academic works.
I therefore thought I'd ask Prof. Hoeffel, who now teaches law at Tulane, some questions about her article, so that other prospective authors may get some guidance or at least inspiration. Prof. Hoeffel kindly replied:
1. Why did you decide to write — and publish — your article?
I would love to say I had high and mighty goals in mind in my decision to write a Note. Nope. A mere requirement of the Stanford Law Review. I have always been a good worker bee — I do what I am told. I reach for the next brass ring as I was taught. I published the Note because the Review accepted it and I was flattered.
I have to tell you, though, that the topic was so hot that I completely burned myself out trying to constantly update the article. I skipped class and worked long hours into the night. Again, the ideals driving me were not high and mighty — mere perfectionism. If I was going to publish it, it had to include every last speck of information out there on DNA, down to the most recent news article. I never in a million years dreamed the article would prove to be so useful.
2. How did you get the idea for the article?
I scoured the earth for an idea for my Note, and flipped through the card catalogue (remember those?) and came across something on "DNA fingerprinting," as they called it. At that point, only one person had written an article about the new use of DNA typing. I was always strong in the sciences and forensic science interested me. I knew I was going to become a public defender so I set out to see whether this new science was ready for the prosecution of the criminally accused.
3. Did you find you learned useful things — whether about writing, about legal reasoning generally, or just about the area you were discussing — while writing the article?
4. Have you found that having published the article has helped you in your career?
What I found most useful was not the writing of the article (although I can blue book the hell out of an article), but the actual knowledge I acquired. I became an instant expert because so few judges or lawyers understood the science, or its fallacies.
When I became a staff attorney at the Public Defender Service in Washington, DC, I did trainings on DNA typing, and someone dubbed me the "Barry Scheck" of the office. I have given other trainings as well and people, amazingly enough, still turn to me as the expert.
The Note helped me get hired as a judicial clerk, at the public defenders, at a private firm, and obviously, it also helped me to get a job as a law professor, because I was ten years out of law school when I applied, with only this Note under my belt. The Note won an award or two in law school, so that helped pad the resume as well.
The most rewarding aspect of all of this, though, was its usefulness to courts and litigants. I am pretty certain that none of my articles will ever be as useful as that one was.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Thoughts from Janet Hoeffel, Author of a Very Successful Student Note:
- Interview with Victor Cosentino, Author of a Very Successful Student Note: