Vol. 41 No. 2
Law review, handwritten notes, and moot court jitters.
You made law review . . . Now what?
If you made it onto the staff of a law review or journal for this year, it’s possible that—along with your excitement about this great opportunity—you felt a bit panicked over the question of what to write about.
If that’s true for you, then Michael Goodwin, an associate at Jardine, Logan & O’Brien in the Twin Cities, has some advice for you, based on his own experience. The first tip he offers, in a post called “Getting started: choosing a law journal topic” at JDs Rising, is that you take your topic decision very seriously. “Investing a lot of time into article selection will pay off tenfold during the research and writing process,” he explains. So, how can you find a great topic? Goodwin suggests consulting the following:
Blogs. Bloggers are often the first to cover breaking legal news, he explains, and there are at least a few great blogs for almost every area of the law. There’s also one that covers splits in the federal courts of appeals, which Goodwin calls “fertile ground for article topics.” (He links to some good examples.)
Law libraries. These offer a wealth of research and writing resources, Goodwin notes. It’s a good idea to visit an actual law library, he believes, but most academic ones also have online resources specifically geared toward topic selection.
Professors. They are “an underutilized source for fleshing out article topics,” Goodwin says, adding, “They should be familiar with current scholarship in your area, and they likely have a lot of experience with academic writing.”
The case for handwritten notes
Do some (or all) of your professors ban laptops in the classroom? If so, you might think this means you won’t be able to take notes as effectively.
But that’s not necessarily true, writes Lee Burgess, founder of Amicus Tutoring LLC and adjunct professor at Golden Gate University School of Law. In a post called “Is handwriting notes a good thing or a bad thing?” at lawschooltoolbox.com, Burgess says there are some upsides to writing your notes by hand.
For example, if you are more comfortable typing than writing by hand, then writing will force you to be selective and focus on getting down the key points and important takeaways. Burgess was able to have a laptop in class, and she spent her entire 1L year trying to type word for word.
“And this was a terrible approach,” she explains, “because when it came time to outline the subject, it was just like reading a transcript of the lecture. It took forever!”
Some students type briefs or take reading notes when not in class, print them out, and then write notes on them during class, she adds. One advantage there, Burgess says, is that then you only have to write down any information that is not already in your typed brief.
Especially if you’re a 1L, but even if you’re further along, Burgess recommends trying out a few different note-taking techniques. “You may be surprised about what helps you retain and understand the most information,” she says.
Calming those moot court jitters
Do you fear public speaking? In “Overcoming a fear of public speaking” at Law School Academic Support Blog, Rebecca Flanagan offers some practical tips based on her experience in teaching a summer gifted class for middle-schoolers.
The gifted class was filled with competitive, ambitious students who had never failed at anything and who feared making a mistake and being humiliated in front of their peers. Sound familiar?
Flanagan, director of pre-law planning and programming and coordinator of academic success programming at the University of Connecticut School of Law, outlines four lessons the frightened students learned and that she thinks could apply to students facing moot court:
Trust rules of procedure. “Many students with a fear of public speaking are afraid of public ridicule,” Flanagan writes, “and the rules associated with moot court prevent the heckling they fear.”
Preparation will make you feel better. If you do your research, she explains, you will be less afraid of being caught off guard.
Everyone makes mistakes. Listen to your classmates. Do they speak perfectly at all times? “Even the best, most fluid speakers make mistakes,” Flanagan says, and most of the time, those mistakes don’t mar the substance of what they’re saying.
If you feel the ideas flying out of your head, stop talking. Take a deep breath. Start again. Even if you feel pressed for time, she notes, you really can spare a moment to collect your thoughts.