Law Life: Getting Published in a Law Journal

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

If you're a current law student or even a recent graduate, you've probably heard about how being published with a law journal is a prestigious 'feather in your cap.'

And it is.

It demonstrates you are able to write effectively enough to make a solid academic contribution to the legal community, an academic contribution that may go on to be cited in case law, dissertations, and thesis work.

It is often something mentioned when you get interviewed for articling or summer law positions, and just something to consider getting involved in overall, even if you're not particularly interested in academia. It is always something you can point to and essentially say to anyone in the industry, "Look. I can write."

It can also set the road to academia: if you have any interest in completing a further legal education after law school, such as an L.L.M. or a Ph.D., publication in a law journal will put you a cut above other candidates. Just like with a J.D. or L.L.B. program, strong academic grades when applying to these programs will only take you so far. Academic law programs want to make sure of two things:

  1. One, that you can write. And;

  2. Two, you actually are attending further academic study for a good reason.

I think we all have heard horror stories about a stereotypical rich kid simply taking degree after degree, mostly because A) they can and B) they don't particularly want to go out into "the real world." While many good people can be 'silver spoon' kids, you want to make sure you're making a choice of academia because you are genuinely serious about it, and not because you can think of nothing else to do, and are avoiding life. This is something many programs explore when you are applying for academic programs, such as a research L.L.M., or Ph.D. It's pretty much why they have you write a short form thesis about your subject, and often an accompanying short essay about why you are choosing to apply for an academic program in the first place.

Law journal publications can be a great basis for thinking about thesis subjects, and demonstrating that you are attending further academic study for that good reason.

(And just to show you I'm not talking out of my behind, here is my published law journal contribution for good measure.)

All this being said, here are some things to consider when applying for journals:

  • Depending on the journal, there are differing deadlines. These are important to keep track of, because you need to be aware of these deadlines if you are applying to multiple publications at once, and need to keep track of them, I'd recommend writing them down in a planner or an Excel spreadsheet, and keeping track of each date as it looms closer in your calendar, especially if you are being published while juggling law school and not after graduation.

  • Don't offer up shoddy work: Some students/law graduates just go for the 'spray and pray;' as in, spray out as many essays as possible, and hope one gets published. While I'd recommend reaching out to several journals and not basing your hopes and dreams of publication solely on one journal, it needs to be quality work. Often journals might explicitly post that the paper has to have received an A/A+ equivalent or a high B+ in a class to even be considered. Sometimes this is more implicitly relayed. Either way, make sure it's a solid paper that you won't mind working on again in the coming months.

  • Pay attention to theme: Often journals won't include papers based on themes. I've explicitly had papers I've written not published because, while they are described by editors as 'very interesting and well-written,' they are not entirely in the scope of the journal (In this case, it was a paper on International Law, and it wasn't connected enough to Canadian jurisdictional examples to be published. Once this was pointed out to me, I could understand their position.). Make sure your paper is jurisdictionally specific and appropriate for the journal at hand: You'll save yourself a lot of time.

  • Try to submit in PDF and a document file: This isn't a strict rule, and I've seen this differ from journal to journal; however, this is my personal preference. Often a journal will want a document file to simply make sure that you probably have the original copy of the file and it isn't just plagiarised from some random source, but I personally like to include that PDF as well. That way, if some of the formatting might be off in the document file at the other end of the email, the committee viewing your file can see what it originally might have meant to look like, and at least have a legible version on hand.

  • Often, journals require you to sign a release form that means your publication cannot and has not been published somewhere else. That means if you're accepted for publication for two separate journals (Congratulations!), you most likely will have to choose one journal. Which makes sense: If you string one journal along while accepting another, it will only end up with you looking stupid, both editing teams not particularly liking you, and your reputation as an academic not particularly in good stead. Make your choice early, and stick to it.

  • Be ready for having some time set aside for the editing process. While the editors will help you and obviously point out some areas for improvement, in my experience, the majority of the sweat and tears editing is actually completed by you. That means, when the editor of the journal sends you back a document of your 'so great it's ready to be published' paper, and it has almost one thousand corrections for twenty six pages (personal experience), you'll be the one changing or accepting every change they tagged within their Pages formatting (If you're lucky, it will be edited in a system like Pages, which is relatively easy and can lead to you accepting more of these changes, rather than really doing any true 'brain power' and editing them yourself.)

  • Don't worry about nitty-gritty formatting (Unless you're explicitly told to worry about nitty-gritty formatting). The editing team at the journal will most likely have a certain formation style they will require/like for the journal, and format your essay appropriately after the fact. I'm not telling you not to properly cite your citations, or forget to section out certain sections of your essay; I'm just telling you: Don't be losing sleep about font selection or paragraph indentations. That is usually left to the editing team to create a cohesive look to the journal.

  • Be ready to use that McGill Citation Guide. Oh, how you'll use the McGill Citation Guide... (If you're unaware/ haven't started your law school experience in Canada yet, the McGill citation guide is the standard citation guide for all academic papers cross-Canada. Know it. Love(?) it. Be ready if you skimped on certain citation sections because it was five o'clock in the morning and you just couldn't find a citation on your initial paper on it (I'm sorry, law gods) to cite it.

  • Get ready for some coffee-filled editing sessions: Seriously. If you're socially distancing more, stock up on some caffeine, give yourself a quiet space and some headphones, and be ready to work. If you're comfortable with going out, responsibly distance in a cafe and create a playlist/listen to a playlist that will help you care about whether or not you included an apostrophe on the third page, ninth paragraph.

  • Gloat afterwards: But seriously; once you get published and see your name in the equivalent of academic lights, it's one of the most satisfying feelings you can have as a nerdling to look forward to.

Got a favourite playlist to work to? Get in contact on the main page and it might be featured in a future article!