Congratulations—you’ve made it onto Law Review or another legal journal! Now you’ve been tasked with choosing a topic for your note, comment or article—not just any topic, but one that has a chance of getting published! Starting with a blank page and the whole of the legal landscape before you can be daunting, so here are some tips for finding viable topics, starting with three key considerations to simplify the selection process.
Consideration #1: Choose a topic that interests you. You will spend most of 2L year working on your comment (or note, or article). If you get published, add 2L summer, likely some of 3L year, and talking about it at job interviews for the rest of your legal career. Make sure you really like the topic now, because it will be with you for the long haul!
Consideration #2: Pick an issue, law, or case that allows you to make a real argument. While you may not know your side of the argument when you start researching, the topic needs to have a point and (at least one) counterpoint. This will allow you to give thoughtful analysis to both your perspective and the opposing point of view. Editors, professors, and lawyers reading these journals want a legal discussion that can be subjected to analysis and interpretation, with extensive supporting sources—arguable topics are a great way to provide all of that.
Consideration #3: Redefine interesting. Often the first ideas that pop into your mind are newer or newly controversial. However, these topics have two potential issues: they may be not yet ripe—there’s no real legal issue yet—or they can be already pre-empted—someone else has already published on the topic (professors have to write articles too). Instead, aim for topics that are current and distinctive, both now and—importantly—at publication, a year or more from now.
Topic Resources and Searching For a Topic
With the preliminary considerations in mind, you can begin your search for a topic. Whether you have a few ideas in mind already, your journal has an annual theme, or you’re starting from scratch, here are a few great options to find (and expand on) strong topics.
Legal News: A common place to start is with reputable legal news sources, like Law360, The American Lawyer, and National Law Journal. These are great for finding current and evolving legal issues. You have easy access to articles from these sources through research platforms like LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg, at least one of which should be available to you through your law school. You can scroll through for interesting articles or even run searches based on keywords of interest.
Circuit Splits: Another source for topics is circuit splits. When two or more circuits disagree on the application of law on the same issue, you have an inherent point and counterpoint on an unresolved legal issue that could come before the Supreme Court. You can discuss each circuit court’s opinion, the impact of the opinions, and how the conflict should be resolved. Just take care not to pick an issue where the Supreme Court has granted cert—that could render your issue moot while you’re writing—or where enough time has passed that it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will address the issue at all.
Legislation: Legislative materials are also a great option for topic ideas. These materials are available from places like ProQuest, LexisNexis, and Westlaw through your school accounts. However, rather than looking at the code sections, like you might for a legal writing assignment, you’ll want to look at Bill Tracking. Bill Tracking will tell you if the bill has become a law, which is important, and it will also tell you if there was a decent amount of discussion related to the law. You may even find links to legislative reports with additional information. Laws with more discussion are more likely to have issues that are arguable and therefore interesting to a legal audience.
Other Articles: Previously written law review articles can also be a source of inspiration for your topic. Published articles have topics that have obviously been found worth of discussion by legal scholars, so if you can zero in on something those authors missed or an issue that they determined was outside the scope of their article, you may discover a compelling topic on which to focus your efforts.
Using these key considerations and ways to search for a topic can help you move from a blank page to a topic outline with plenty of time to meet your deadlines, and a solid chance of producing a publishable piece.