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July 08, 2009

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Howard Wasserman

At FIU, where our law review is only about 5 years old, we have been haggling over this issue for 5 years. First, we had a pure write-on; then we reserved four slots (top two students, day and evening), with everyone else grading on. Last spring, we just changed to all write-on, but the top 7 % have their grades included in a formula (about 25 % or so) that pretty much ensures that those 7 % will get on, so long as they write a reasonable competition note. That new plan is being implemented this summer; we will see how it works.

Tung Yin

If the goal is to develop "stars" among the students for high-prestige jobs, etc., isn't it better to have the law review be entirely write-on and have this be publicly known? That way, students who have killer grades and law review membership have demonstrated success in two or more dimensions. Having grades count some percentage for everyone, or reserving some slots for highly ranked students ends up devaluing the meaning of the write-on selection for everyone, since potential employers have no way of knowing how any individual was selected.

Dan Filler

Tung, in principle you're clearly right. The challenge is that free information flow is unlikely to exist in this context. A judge in Georgia is rarely going to check the Iowa website to see how the law review picks its members. The same will be true of Cravath or Latham. And since these policies change from year to year, even publicly articulated policies will likely disappear from view before this candidate is two years out of law school.

anon

It is a minor thing, but another angle is the feedback loop on the prestige thing. Law review functions only by bringing prestige for its members (few students want to devote countless hours to citechecking). One way of bringing prestige to the law review is to have all the high-ranking students be on law review. If the law review had no high ranking students and thus no members got prestigious jobs, it not only hurts the school in trying to help the top 5%, but also nobody would bother join law review in the future.

Also, at some schools where you are not given nor allowed to speculate on your class rank, being on law review is basically the only way to signal to a judge that you are in the top 10%.

Tung Yin

I agree that free information flow is unlikely, but only if we're talking about wildly divergent geographical hypotheticals, like Georgia judges and Iowa students. For students at schools outside the top 10 (15?), clerkships and the like are probably mostly a local feature. Law firms who interview on-campus -- and therefore are repeat players -- would be expected to be familiar with law journal selections, too.

jasonpointer

I agree to some extent. At my school, the write-on process is required for any prospective law review member. Grades may get your foot in the door, but even the #1 student in the class has to write a casenote and take a bluebook exam (anonymous numbers are used).

However, I think that it is somewhat contradictory how this blog calls for grades to not be weighed as heavily during the write-on process, while at the same time touting the US News and World Report Rankings whose primary qualifier is the LSAT - essentially a grade. Not to mention, a grade who has been shown to be inaccurate in predicting success in law school.

If someone could explain this to me, I would be obliged...

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