As usual I know nothing about this. I wasn't on law review -- at least not for more than a week -- so I don't know much about it's true merits. Surely, surely there must be some, because otherwise it is nearly inconceivable that so many otherwise bright people would waste so many precious hours doing thankless and completely tedious work, enduring what amounts to hazing for a year only to arrive at a place where they get to inflict the colossal drudgery on others. (Although there might be some cynics who note that some really smart people in our profession do that when they get out of law school too....)
I was just talking to a friend of mine, a 1L at a law school alas way too far away. She's already got law school way more figured out than I ever did, and besides that she's naturally brilliant, so her path will be a piece of cake. But we got to talking about law review for a while.
I found law review to be the worst combination of the following: mediocre student minds and overweening pride at the "prestige" of being on law review; stubborn and mindless adherence to antiquated editing processes (involving precious red pencils and a TYPIST, of all things) because "this is how it's always been done, and we don't really have the time to innovate"; a lack of passion, intellectual curiousity, or insight into a particular subject matter of the law; extraordinarily well-developed sense of heirarchy, pecking order, and status.
If I had been a little more clued in I would have educated myself about law review before I joined up, so I wouldn't have had to quit when I figured out what a silly endeavor it was. But I'm sorry to say I didn't question the "honor" of being selected (and it didn't occur to the editors that anyone who graded on would refuse, or need to know any more than that they made it on -- so it's not like there was full disclosure of what law review even meant) so I didn't get a chance to do the cost benefit analysis until I was on the damn staff.
Cost: Extraordinary amounts of time, doing cite checking of articles. You're assigned pages of the articles and sent around the library to get books and check that every citation is spot on, every quote exact, every period conforming to Bluebook Rules. Benefit: You learn a little about the Bluebook, which is not information that seems to me worth knowing except as a means to getting something else done. But you don't really learn much about the article you're cite checking because you've got a tiny fragment of it -- you're not really "reading" it so much as crawling around it with a feather duster making it pretty. You get to write an article, but at my school if you weren't on a journal you still had a writing requirement, so that "opportunity" was still available to you if you wanted it. And if you weren't on a journal you had a lot more available time to pursue something you were genuinely curious about. Another "benefit" -- the bond of shared drudgery, countless late nights, with other students so eager to get the prestige points of being on law review they were willing to ignore the fact that the emperor had no clothes. And lots of time with the unimaginative and somewhat sadistic editors aggrandized with their impressive titles and gleeful about the fact that finally someone else was doing the huge volumes of tedious work that had made them so miserable the year before. These were not the people at the law school I found most captivating or original.
Cost: I would have had to give up a fascinating job at a venture capital firm, where each day I was around real innovators and real smart business people and lawyers, learning cool new stuff, in order to have the honor of having some book-smart ego-inflated 25-year-old journal editor telling me why "cf." was not appropriate in this particular citation, and how the mark I should have made with my red pencil looked a little different. Absurd. For the "benefit" of a line on my resume that would show potential employers that I was somehow more worthy? WHY does the profession buy this idea that people who are on law review are somehow better than people who are not? I argue that, while there must be benefits of being on law review, it is SURELY a rational decision, at least some of the time, for some law students to use their time elsewhere. And yet it seems to remain this talisman of worthiness to so many folks. Cripes, poor JCA, who one would think would have settled any question of whether she's "good enough" by her terrific blog writing and, of course, her happy transfer to a law school way up high on the pecking order, is busting her butt to write on to law review now that she's arrived.
Clearly, I have missed the point of law review. Maybe there are passionately happy law students out there staffing journals because they dig it? Could you guys speak up? Practicing lawyers who discovered on law review something they could have gotten nowhere else? Please no "It's a good experience -- I survived it, so should everyone else" war stories. The law has enough stupid hazing experiences. I'm interested in positive law review stories that are not about the institution of law review but about the day-to-day experience of what it really is.
[UPDATE: Please check out Evan Schaeffer's cogent response. He liked law review, for some pretty good reasons, and writes about it here. Exactly what I was looking for. And Tung Yin, who also dug it, chimes in here. Beldarblog liked it too.]