Saturday, February 21, 2009

Guest Post: My Journal Tryout Memoirs

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a new feature on UVA Law Blog, which allows guest contributors - enjoy! -- Rule 12(f)

For those of you who have no idea what a "journal" has to do with law school, much less how/why you would "try out" for one during your spring "break," let me explain.

Unlike many professions, publication of legal scholarship is almost entirely overseen by student-run journals, which in turn are managed by--you guessed it--"managing boards." Managing boards consist of second- and third-year law students who, by virtue of their crushing intellects and superior dart-throwing skills, have risen to the top of their respective journal staffs. However, upon arriving at “the top," they quickly become disenchanted and begin to torture first-year members of the staff for pleasure. More on this below.

The articles themselves are written by professors (and occasionally students, practicioners, and prestigious alums such as Ted Kennedy) and then submitted to journals for publication. The topics vary widely. The more interesting, analytically rigorous, and relevant an article is, the more likely it is to be published in a prestigious journal. (However, having now read a few journal articles, I am certain that "interesting" and "relevant" are loose requirements.) The prestige of the author is also considered--the more prestigious he/she is, the more likely it is that he/she will have his/her article published in a prestigious journal.

As anyone familiar with academic scholarship will note, journal prestige is very important. This is because an author who publishes in a prestigious journal will then have the prestige to...well...publish in other prestigious journals. This, in turn, adds to the prestige of the other journals, thus attracting more prestigious authors. Isn't this amazing? I had no idea so much was going on.

On average, about 20% of any given page in a legal journal is devoted to the body of the article. However, don't let this statistic fool you. Only half of this typeface consists of meaningful words. The other half is devoted to footnote calls (super-scripted numbers that refer to footnotes). When you have, on average, six trillion footnotes in an article, those numbers take up a lot of space...especially the latter ones.

The remaining 80% of the page is devoted to the footnotes themselves. Rather than telling you what these are like, I decided to show you. I'll use asterisks instead of numbers becausesuperscripts are always sketchy online. I'll also break about fifteen citation rules because I can't use small caps, the "section" symbol, etc. Please forgive me, and don't tell the managing board.

Consider this fictional (though representative) excerpt from a journal article written by a professor:

The U.S. Constitution* bans** cruel*** and**** unusual***** punishment.******
* U.S. Const. amend. VIII, s 2.

** Some authors have disputed whether the Eighth Amendment constitutes a pure ban. See, e.g., Lance Brimhall, Why My Journal Tryout was Unconstitutional 235 (Jim Bob ed., LoserLawyer Books 2008) [hereinafter Brimhall, Journal Tryout Unconstitutional].

*** I have doubts about the accepted interpretation of this term. To me, cruelty is relative. What seems cruel to the punished might be thoroughly enjoyable to the punisher. For example, though Brimhall decries the journal tryout process as "cruel," he forgets the enjoyment likely derived by second- and third-year students who watch him suffer--particularly those on the managing board. See Brimhall, Journal Tryout Unconstitutional, supra note **. For this reason, I recommend the "objective onlooker" test for the constitutionality of punishment.

**** Some have argued that this word suggests a conjunctive test. See e.g., Joe Bob, Cruel and Unusual Punishment: A Case for a Conjunctive Test, 73 Yale L.J. 886 (1996). This is significant because it would require that punishment be both cruel and unusual in order to be unconstitutional. Following this reasoning, Mr. Brimhall would not have a case for unconstitutionality because the punishment about which he complains is clearly not unusual: Thousands of law students volunteer for the same "punishment" every year in their important quest for prestige.

***** Speaking of unusual, I saw the most unusual thing the other day. I was parked at a red stoplight and...

****** If you're still reading these footnotes, you must be bored and have no friends. (Was that cruel to say? unusual?) Consider joining facebook. It counts your friends for you.
Ok, that was a long aside, but here's why it's important: Those (un)lucky souls who are accepted to join a journal will spend their first year correcting authors' sloppy citation formatting. (Authors know this and rely heavily on this "assistance"; however, don't even think about messing with substantive matters such as the author's experience at the stoplight.) These assignments are the primary means by which managing boards torture first-year members of their staff. Doesn't that sound AWESOME?!!!! If not, at least you can see that it's prestigious.

Now that you know WHY we do journal tryouts (i.e. to pad our resumes with the fact that we combed footnotes for a "prestigious" journal), let me explain WHAT the journal tryout consists of. There are two parts to the tryout--editing and writing. For the editing portion, applicants are given a very rough journal article to correct. This includes "above the line" corrections to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., as well as "below the line" corrections to footnote citations, as mentioned above. For simplicity, the citation rules have been summarized in a single reference volume called the Bluebook. It's about five inches wide, eight inches tall, and just thirteen feet thick. No big deal. After all, simplicity is the goal. (As a safety precaution, I recommend that you don't utter the word "Bluebook" in the presence of anyone who has participated recently in a journal tryout. Also, please don't tell the managing board that I failed to put this warning in a footnote; this is a CLEAR and BLATANT violation of the well-known rule 1,456,935.A-7Niner found in the Bluebook.)

The writing portion consists of a single question to be addressed in a ten-page essay as well as about 250 pages of cases, statutes, etc. to be used as reference material. In fact, those 250 pages are the only reference material that can be used. This is devastating to those of us who rely on Wikipedia to make sense of the world.

The writing portion is designed to take about three times as long as the editing portion. However, all journals except Law Review (the most prestigious journal) weigh the editing portion more heavily. Perhaps Law Review's keen recognition of this discrepancy explains its tremendous prestige.

Applicants are given 72 hours to complete the tryout. Below is a rough breakdown of how that time is usually (though not ideally) spent.

  1. Pick up packet at 11:00 AM
  2. Go to gym to prepare mind and body for the work ahead (2 hours)
  3. Talk to friends about how much you don't want to do the work ahead (1-6 hours)
  4. Work on editing portion, checking email and/or facebook every five minutes because you are INSANELY bored (1-6 hours, depending on the above)
  5. Sleep (8 is spring break, after all)

  1. Finish editing portion (2-4 hours, feels like 2-4 years)
  2. Reward yourself with lunch at Chipotle (nearly 2 hours because everyone in Charlottesville is doing the same thing)
  3. Begin reading (4 hours)
  4. Keep reading (4 more hours)
  5. Still reading (3 more hours)
  6. Sleep (6 hours...most likely dreaming about the tryout)

  1. Finish reading (3 hours)
  2. Skip lunch though you deserve a reward
  3. Outline arguments for 10-page paper (1 hour; you should spend more time on this, but by now you're very nervous about the fact that this paper is due tomorrow and you haven't written a single word, so you just start typing)
  4. Type paper (4 hours)
  5. Keep typing (4 hours)
  6. Still typing (4 hours)
  7. Go home, type at home (2 hours)
  8. Go to bed at 1:30 AM; toss and turn until 3:00 AM
  9. Wake up at 4:30 AM
  10. Finish typing paper (4 hours)
  11. Look over the editing portion again (1 hour)
  12. Look over your paper again; get very sad that you don't enough time to actually make it good (30 mins)
  13. Race to Law School Copy Center to make 87 copies of everything, stapled and organized according to the instructions you didn't read until just now; pray there isn't a line; there is a line
  14. Race to Kinko's; there is also a line here, but now you're out of options
  15. Eventually copy everything
  16. Race to Va. L. Rev. office; turn in materials at 10:51 AM (I'm not kidding)
  17. YES!!!! YOU'RE DONE!!!!
  18. Look in mirror; realize you look and smell horrible; smile at the fact that you've been running around town in slippers and PJs
  19. It doesn't matter; nothing matters now but your pillow...

Now that I've painted the journal tryout process in a horrible light, I should come clean. It's actually worse than that. However, to pander to the managing board, I've watered down the truth. In that spirit, repeat after me:

"The Bluebook (OUCH!!!!) is my friend."


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks! This helped a bunch! I've read a couple
rather confusing websites lately, this cleared up a lot confusion I had.