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2L: Co-Curricular Opportunities: Journals

(Brandon Harper L’14, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Constitutional Law, and Joel Mallord L’14, Editor-in-Chief of the Penn Law Review, are the authors of this section.)

Category Overview

Law journals are the primary source of legal scholarship. Unlike most scholarly journals, which are edited and published by professionals under the guidance of faculty editorial boards, law journals are organized, operated, and directed by students. Each year, professors, judges, and practitioners submit thousands of articles, essays, book reviews, and response pieces to Penn’s six law journals. From these submissions, journal board members select a small number for publication. The journal staff then works with the author to shape the piece into publishable form. That process includes substantive editing; editing for style and grammar; and technical editing to make sure that the citations conform to the Bluebook.

There are six journals at Penn Law, each with a unique mission and culture:

  • The East Asia Law Review aspires to contribute to the scholarly discourse on the evolution of law and society in East Asia, and to shape the U.S. legal academy’s understanding of the region.
  • The Journal of Business Law seeks to provide scholarly analysis of cutting-edge legal issues relating to business, publishing articles on such topics as corporate governance, securities regulation, and financial restructuring.
  • The Journal of Constitutional Law provides a forum for the academic advancement and interdisciplinary study of constitutional law, seeking to promote critical perspectives and fresh approaches to the field.
  • The Journal of International Law explores a broad spectrum of issues at the forefront of international law, including trade and economic law, human rights, environmental regulation, armed conflict, international peace and security, and international institutions.
  • The Journal of Law and Social Change espouses a progressive and interdisciplinary approach to challenge social injustice, publishing works that thoughtfully address current social issues.
  • The University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the nation’s oldest continuously published law journal, seeks to address the most pressing legal issues of the day, spanning all areas of the law.

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Description of the Writing Competition

All journals select their members through a writing competition administered after completion of 1L exams.  The competition comprises three parts: a two-day editing test, an original essay, and a personal statement.  The two-day editing test generally occurs the Monday and Tuesday following the last final exam. It tests students’ mastery of the Bluebook and ability to apply its rules diligently and precisely. Students then have one week to complete the original essay and personal statement, which require no additional preparation.

The writing competition tests the skills required of successful editors. The editing portion tests attention to detail, knowledge of the Bluebook, and efficiency in editing. The essay portion tests persuasive writing skills of the type required to improve articles and produce high-quality student scholarship. Finally, the personal statement assesses the editors’ enthusiasm, effort, and potential to bring unique viewpoints to the team.

Students should begin preparing for the writing competition during 1L spring semester. In the latter part of the semester, the journal boards provide detailed information about the competition, including key dates, descriptions of the test, preparation tips, sample editing exercises, and test rules. Prior to this, students may gain a marginal advantage by getting familiar with the Bluebook, but they do best to focus on their classwork; journals also consider grades when selecting new editors.

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Description of Associate Editors (“AEs”)

Associate editors are primarily responsible for editing the pieces selected for publication.  For each piece, associate editors perform a source hunt, which involves finding authoritative versions of the sources the author has cited.  They obtain sources through Biddle Law Library, other Penn libraries, interlibrary loan, and various online databases.

Depending on the journal, the associate editor will perform approximately two rounds of edits on a portion of an article. These edits generally call for substantive, stylistic, and technical editing. After each of those rounds, the author of the piece is given the opportunity to make substantive changes.  After those changes are made, the work of the associate editors is done, and journal board members perform a final round of editing.  The process is repeated for each issue of the journal.  The number of issues published varies by journal.

In addition to performing editorial functions, associate editors will be encouraged to and may be required to write a comment.  Associate editors on JLASC also participate in content selection.

Associate editors receive one credit for the 2L year, which they may use in either semester. For those seeking board positions, the spring semester is a good time to use the credit—boards transition in February or March, and the workload may then be much higher.

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AE Considerations: Fall Semester

Each journal begins the fall with an orientation.  Associate Editors will learn the specifics of their role as it pertains to their journal, and will receive training and mentoring from the experienced 3L journal members.  While journals are exceptional tools for research and writing training, they also provide the opportunity for new friendships.  Journals become close, tight-knit communities, and 3L members are always willing to share both their journal experiences, and experiences with classes, pro bono projects, the Keedy Cup, and summer employment.  Associate Editors are encouraged to get to know 3L members so that they can enhance their Penn Law network and experience. 

Associate editors will begin conducting substantive edits during their 2L fall.  The precise number of edits and process will vary by journal, but all Associate Editors are responsible for helping gather sources and editing articles.  The fall is also an opportunity to begin thinking about student publication.  Most of our journals allow (and indeed require or encourage) members to write student notes or comments.  A note/comment is a short (20-50 pages) piece of legal scholarship that is researched and written, and then potentially published in the journal.  Students should begin talking to faculty members about advising their note/comment research early in the fall semester.

Second year editors also have the opportunity to assist with the journal’s symposium.  Each of the Law School’s journals holds a (sometimes multi-day) session dedicated to showcasing the research and scholarship in a particular area of the law.  Symposia provide an opportunity for scholars to present their work, and for students to learn about a different area of the law.  In addition to assisting with their journals’ symposium, Associate Editors are encouraged to attend the symposia of Penn Law’s other journals.  Some symposia take place in the fall, and others are in the spring. 

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AE Considerations: Spring Semester

The spring semester is similar as the fall semester insofar as Associate Editors conduct source hunts and edits, and assist with symposium planning and comment/note writing.   

The spring semester differs in that it provides an opportunity for leadership within the journal.  All of our journals select their leadership in the spring.  Students interested in positions ranging from Senior Editor to Editor-in-Chief will complete applications and sometimes take part in interviews and elections.  Once the new editorial boards are announced, they quickly assume their leadership roles.  Our journals have an excellent tradition of thorough training and transition, so any new editorial board member will have the luxury of working side-by-side with her predecessor for a period of weeks or months.

Students interested in a board position should be active on the journal throughout the year, should demonstrate an interest in both the subject area and the administrative side of the journal, and should be personable and relatable.  Journal boards are teams, and editors spend a lot of time together.  The selection process is all about finding the right balance between talented editors and strong team players.  If you believe you are interested in a board position, you should talk to the person currently holding the position so that you can gain a good understanding of the role and what would be expected throughout the application process.

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Closing Thoughts

Journals prepare students for the real world by honing research, writing, and editing skills.  In addition to practical skills, students learn to work in teams, and to become detail oriented.  Associate Editors are essential to the success of our journals, and those who enjoy their second year experience are encouraged to join their journal leadership.  We hope that you will become an active participant on your journal, and look forward to seeing you help the journal grow and develop.  Should you have any questions about Penn Law journals, feel free to peruse the journal mastheads and reach out to individuals as appropriate. 

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