Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Get Published & Why It Matters

Whether you're on a law journal or not, having a publication can be a real boon to any resume.  Nearly all law schools require a writing component, where you have to take a paper course.  There's no reason that you shouldn't be able to take that paper and publish it.  I'm convinced that I landed some of my most prestigious law school internships from my publications, not my GPA.

A publication really sets you apart.  Most law students have not published anything.  Ever.  So, when a perspective employer sees "PUBLICATIONS" as a category on your resume, he/she will likely be impressed and curious.  That's a good thing.

Note: This blog entry is NOT about how to write a publish-worthy piece.  Rather, this blog assumes that you have written something excellent and explains the process of getting that fabulous piece of work published.

You are going to need to know how to do the following:
  • develop good key words
  • write an abstract... a good one
  • write a cover letter for law journals in which you want to get published
  • create a CV (curriculum vita)
  • submit all of these things together with your paper
At the outset, know that a paper submitted for publication by a student is called a comment, not an article.  This is specific to the legal field.  In non-law academia, all published pieces are called articles.  Also, when you refer to your own comment, whether in an abstract or in the paper itself, you will capitalize the word "comment."  Ex: This Comment seeks to explore blah, blah, blah.

Key Words:
Key words are important because they help future scholars find your article.  There are certain DOs and DO NOTs associated with creating key words.  Let's begin with the DO NOTs.

DO NOT use the same words that appear in your title.  This creates a redundancy.  When people search for certain key terms, of course words that appear in your title will come up in that search.  Therefore, you want to make your key words work for you in case somebody is trying to find a paper like yours but has not used words in your title.

DO think of synonyms for words in your title.  Also, think of the type of law you are discussing in your paper.  If you have written about an entity, you'll want to use that as a key word.  Finally, if you discuss an important piece of legislation not mentioned in your title, use that.

One key word can actually consist of more than one word.  I know this seems confusing, but it's true.  So, for instance, here is a title of a paper, and here is a list of key words (usually, you want 5-8 key words):

Title: Mass Meat Consumption, Human Rights, and Animal Welfare: An Alternative Appeal to Limitative Federal Legislation

Key Words: food, water, environment, property, EPA, Declaration of Human Rights, NAFTA

The abstract appears at the beginning of your paper, under the title, and before the Table of Contents.

Its purpose is to act as an extremely concise synopsis of your entire paper.  Typically, journals limit the number of words that an abstract can contain.  Law journals usually place this limit at 200 or 250 words, so there's no room to mess around.  Here's how to do it:

The first sentence literally states the goal of the paper in non-b.s. terms.  By that, I mean you must flag for the reader that you're talking about the goal of your paper.  How do you do this?  Simply write, "The goal of this paper is to . . . "  That's it.  If you prefer some kind of synonym to the word "goal," like "purpose," fine.  But just get to it, and do that in the first sentence.

Ex. (taken from a different paper than the one I listed under Key Words): This paper sets out directive arguments based upon international treaties as well as a combination of U.S. and Indian law for the impending Indian Supreme Court decision that will determine the extent to which corporations’ water rights may impose upon basic human rights to potable water.

The second sentence should explain briefly some facts about the issue that your paper is addressing.  If the issue is controversial, you can use the next sentence to demonstrate the facts of the other side of the story.  This will show the reader that you can be objective, and this makes you a more trustworthy author.

Ex.: Companies like Coca-Cola, which rely upon access to an abundance of water for their products, have set up factories in India and provide employment for nearby residents. On the flip side, an Indian appellate bench sacrificed a community’s access to water for Coca-Cola’s absolute property rights.

The next few sentences--tops--should discuss, in order, the effects/implications and the current state of the legal matter (whether the legal matter you're addressing is a law, a case, or whatever).

Ex.: As a result, Indian women, with whom many societies charge the daily procurement of water, must travel farther and farther to fetch the family water. The effects of Coca-Cola’s water extraction have caused political uproar within and across Indian communities. Now, the Indian Supreme Court must decide whether companies like Coca-Cola retain absolute rights to any and all water beneath their real property; the fates of companies like Coca-Cola and communities’ livelihoods rest in the Court’s  hands… and there the decision has rested for years.

The "So What?" Factor:
Explain in one sentence why your issue matters.  Is there a separation of powers issue?  Will the resolve or lack thereof forever change employment law?  Tell me: Why does your paper legally matter?  

Ex: This case may spur international movement either toward or away from multinational corporations’ absolute property rights in the face of thirsting and drought-affected communities worldwide.

The Normative Factor/Conclusion:
In one sentence, tell the reader what "should" be done and why.

Ex.: The Indian Supreme Court should rely upon CEDAW, the CRC, its Constitution, court precedent, and the public trust doctrine in order to both satisfy its international obligations to provide its communities with water and avoid judicial activism.

Cover Letter:
Very similar to my other post about cover letters for jobs, this kind of cover letter also serves a very specific purpose.  Therefore, each paragraph has its own particular goal.

You want this cover letter to be SHORT!  Otherwise, the very busy editor is not going to want to bother reading your cover letter.  S/he is busy.  If you can't demonstrate what your paper is about and why it matters in 3 short paragraphs, the editor will likely safely assume that you can't write very well to begin with.

First Paragraph:
I call this the "Why You?" paragraph.

The whole basic point of the first paragraph is to introduce your paper and say that it's nuanced.  The journal, frankly, does not give a damn about your paper if there's nothing nuanced about it.  If you don't know whether or how your paper is nuanced, you should think about that.  I mean, really.  What makes your paper different from all of the other ones out there?  Only you can come up with that.

So, your first paragraph should contain: 
  • the title of your paper (in proper Bluebook format)
  • the statement that it's nuanced
  • the legal topics that your paper covers
Ex.: My article, Mass Meat Consumption, Human Rights, and Animal Welfare: An Alternative Appeal
to Limitative Federal Legislation, presents several nuances to the fields of human rights, animal
welfare, and environmental law.

Note: I referred to the paper as an article because it had not been published yet, so I didn't want to call it a comment.  Plus, "article" is more scholarly than "paper."  I also didn't capitalize "article" because this is a cover letter, not the paper itself or the abstract.

Second paragraph:
I call this the "Prove It" paragraph.  In other words, sure, it's easy to summarily claim that your paper is nuanced, but now you're going to have to prove that.

I think that the easiest, clearest, and most concise way to do this is to draw the reader's attention to 3 points regarding why your paper is different than everything else out there.  I do this by using the words "first," "second," and "third."  It's that simple.

Ex.: First, though most animal rights/welfare articles speak to atrocities inflicted upon animals, my article recognizes that such appeals fail to spur federal legislative action. Second, my paper presents an alternative approach—a human rights approach—to support arguments for limitations on mass meat production and importation, which would at once effectively reduce animal torture, at least  quantitatively, and improve human rights by reducing instances of starvation, environmental degradation, and drought. Third, the article argues that Congress both may and should legislate mass meat production/importation limitations; these powers should not be left to the states.

The Third Paragraph:
I call this the "Why Them" paragraph.  Now, here's where you need to be a little creative.  After all, you probably don't have time to research every journal in order to discover why they are special.  Moreover, to increase your likelihood of getting your piece published, you're going to want to mass-submit this thing.  I refer to this as the shotgun approach.

So, how do you make the editor of the journal feel like you really want to submit to their law journal, even while you submit your paper to perhaps dozens of places?  Well, you do this by including the following in your paragraph:
  • these words: opportunity, future dialogue, and intersections (if your paper discusses more than one area of law and/or policy)
  • the legal topic(s) that your paper address(es)
Every journal wants to believe that they, too, are nuanced and produce interesting stuff.  That's why you tell them that you know their journal presents that possibility, even if you don't actually know that.  They want to believe that this is true because it adds prestige to their journals.

Ex.: I have chosen to submit my paper to your journal because it provides an ideal forum for my article’s subject matter through opportunities for future dialogue regarding the intersections of human rights, the environment, and animal law.

Add a final "Thank You" paragraph, and you're done!  :)

A CV is very different than a resume--especially a legal resume that remains only one page in length for a few years.  Unlike a resume, a CV includes everything you've ever done.  Really.  Throw it all in.  Even the kitchen sink.

You want to have the header match that of your cover letter.  Consistency is always very important.

A CV might include the following categories in, more or less, this order:

Works in Progress
Legal/Teaching/Research Experience
Academic Honors, Programs, & Scholarships
Community Service
Professional Affiliations
Research Interests
Foreign Languages

Everything under each category should be in reverse chronological order.  

Do NOT include anything non-legal or non-academic.  Everything should at least tentatively relate to law or scholastics.  Because political events and policy issues relate to scholastics, those things are okay.

Also, do NOT double-dip, meaning don't place one activity in more than one category.  For instance, if you received an award for volunteer work, place that under either "Awards" or "Community Service" but not both.  I would choose the most prestigious category in that instance, which would be Awards.

If you need more guidance with a CV, go here.

This is the easiest part.  Go to UC Berkeley's submission site.  It's called ExpressO.  There is a large "Start Your Submission" button in the upper right-hand corner.  Start there.

Simply follow the instructions thereafter.  There will be places for you to enter your Key Words, your Abstract, your Cover Letter, your CV, and your paper.

The beauty of ExpressO is that you can shotgun your paper to a ton of journals at once.  You can do so by category (i.e., top 50 journals, all IP journals, etc.) by simply checking the box next to all of the journals to which you want to submit your paper. 

Warning!  Don't submit your article to journals that indicate that they are "closed to students."  Otherwise, frankly, you look like a dumb-ass who can't even follow directions.

WHEW!  That was a LOT to write.  I hope that it helps y'all out.