Unleash Your Inner Scholar: Why Solos Should Write A Law Review Article

Seems that ATL Editor David Lat is concealing a dirty little secret underneath his robes.  As you know, by day, David toils as a mild-mannered blogger exposing the secrets of, and dishing out biting commentary on AmLaw 100 firms.  But after hours, he busts out his secret inner scholar and transforms into a veritable Volokh, authoring real published scholarly articles like this one or this one that have more words than readers.

While I have no idea what compels David Lat to dabble in legal scholarship (perhaps it’s that same cleansing instinct that drives people to crave salad after a long junk food binge), writing law review articles makes sense for solos, particularly those who compete with large law firms or generate business from referrals from attorneys or judges.   I fully recognize that the advice to write a law review article seems counter-intuitive at a time of declining journal circulation not to mention diminished attention spans.  Even so, allow me to make my case for the law review article in the most un-scholarly way possible: the top ten (or in this case, the top eight) list.

1. An endless source of content : You’ve heard the saying that content is king; the only food source that will sate the ever ravenous search engines. At 12,000 words or more, packed with footnotes and case citations, law review articles offer an everlasting gobstopper of content for blogs, online publications and document archive platforms.

For starters, you can upload the article to your law firm website, as I did at my site with my recent law review article, The Power of Social Media: Legal Issues and Best Practices for Utilities Engaging Social Media. To further enhance your article’s online visibility, you can also post it at document archiving sites like Scribd, Docstoc, and tag your article with keywords that users might use in searching for information on the topic. If you’re more interested in putting your article in front of other lawyers and corporate counsel, post it on JD Supra, which will mention your article in one of its regular press releases, and also post it as part of theLegal Updates on LinkedIn.

But wait – there’s more! Because most law review articles are so ginormous, you can hack ’em up into dozens of bite sized pieces that can be distributed around the internet. For articles of interest to corporate counsel, consider submitting a shortened version of your article to Lexology, a web-based service that delivers legal analysis to corporate law departments. Other article publication options include trade association newsletters (often published online), one of law.com’s many publications, Huffington Post or e-zine.

If you prefer to build content on your own site, you can re-purpose a law review article as a series of blog posts. And if your article concerns a topic that’s in flux – for example, an appellate decision pending Supreme Court review or an emerging area of law like online defamation or social media in employment law – you can produce a series of “pocket parts” (as I’ve done here) to continue to update readers about on-going developments.

2. An excuse to toot your own horn Lawyers will issue press releases on just about anything, from the importance of avoiding drinking and driving on New Year’s Eve to announcing availability to comment on a case (As an aside, search the term “lawyer” here for the sublime to the ridiculous in lawyer press releases). But publication of a law review article, particularly one on a current topic or in a prominent publication could potentially justify a Press Release. If a press release is too much, you can still announce your article on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and other social media channels.

3. Repurpose work product : In some of your cases, you may have an opportunity to brief a current issue where the circuits are split or even make precedent on an important issue. Rather than let all of that good research go to waste, you can quickly recycle the material into a law review article – and hire a law clerk or contract lawyer (see point #5 , below) for supplementary research or citations. Bear in mind that if you decide to write about research that you previously performed for a client, you should avoid commenting on any confidential issues unique to your client’s case, writing about a case that’s still ongoing or taking a position adverse to the one that you publicly advocated for your client.

4. Collaborate with a potential referral source or client If you’re a new lawyer eager to impress an experienced colleague in the hopes of attracting referrals, or angling to lure corporate business, use a law review article as a way to collaborate. It’s a technique that worked for Mark Hermann while he as at a firm, and one that he recommends now that he’s in-house. Co-authoring an article provides a tangible benefit to your prospect and gives them an opportunity to have a first hand look at your work product.

If you choose the co-authorship approach, though, you’ll have to take the initiative and follow through on getting the article done. While some co-authors will happily shoulder their share of work and dutifully meet deadlines, others will expect a free ride. So be prepared to draft the bulk of the article, play taskmaster to ensure that your co-author provides timely feedback, and submit the article for publication. The co-authorship process can be aggravating, but when your co-authors will be beholden to you forever once they see their name in a byline.

5. Help out an unemployed law student, new grads or contract lawyer Even if you’ve already preliminarily fleshed out a topic, a law review article will still require research assistance in the form of literature searches, cite checking and footnoting. Many of these tasks are well suited for law students, new unemployed graduates or junior contract lawyers. For a few hundred dollars, you can finalize your research without losing work time and help out a law student or another lawyer with a little bit of cash, research experience and a print acknowledgment to add to their resume.

6. Impress those big law colleagues OK, I know that many of you solos don’t give a hoot about what big firm lawyers think of you. And if you don’t get any business from large firm lawyers, that’s fair enough. But for many lawyers, particularly those who either leave big law to strike out on their own or otherwise work along side large firms, big law attorneys can serve as a lucrative source of small case or conflicts referrals. But even if large firm lawyers know you via an introduction from another colleague or a bar event, they may not end cases your way without some assurance that you’re capable of handling them. In these cases, the law review article can help vouch for your competence.

7. Change and influence the law Granted, with blogs and social media offering a platform for exchange of and exposure to ideas, law review articles carry less weight than they did years ago when this article that I authored served as the basis for legislative change a few years later. Still, many judges still look to law review articles to support judicial opinions that set new precedent so if you feel strongly about an area of the law that should be changed, a law review article offers that possibility.

8. Escape that inferiority complex  Instead of constantly comparing yourself to “law reviewers” – either by boasting about how you’re so great while they’re slaving away as drones at big law, or claiming that they’re a bunch of snot-nosed, self-entitled losers, just write a damn law review article and cure yourself of the green-eyed monster once and for all. You’ll see that writing an article is basically the same thing as writing a brief, something you do everyday and that getting it published is even easier since journals are so desperate for content that they’ll print anything with lots of footnotes (most law professors, it seems would rather blog).

So come on – you’ve already tried the pricey directories, the expensive marketing gurus and for-fee SEO.  What do you have to lose by taking a walk on the wild side and letting your inner scholar hang out?

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