A good note topic will make a claim that is novel, nonobvious, useful, and sound, for both the writer and the potential readers.
The first step to coming up with a claim is to identify a problem - new legal developments, conflicts in the law, gaps or errors in current scholarly understanding, or any other flaw or hole that you identify within the legal world as it stands. The next step is to propose a solution to that problem - your proposed solution then becomes your claim.
Ideas for a note topic can come from almost anywhere: newspapers, magazines, blogs, other journal articles or circuit splits. For circuit splits, identify an area of law or issue where courts have ruled differently and analyze an aspect of the issue or rulings. In Lexis or Westlaw, search for caselaw referring to a circuit split by including a search string like "court or circuit /s split." Bloomberg Law compiles a monthly list of circuit splits available here (Bloomberg login required).
Keep in mind that you may realize the need to broaden or narrow your topic during the writing process.
A preemption check is conducted to determine whether there is new law or a prior publication (whether by student author or expert) that renders an article moot. Your treatment of the topic must be original. Your issue can be preempted in two ways.
In Westlaw: Search the following databases:
In Lexis: Search the following subject areas -
Don't forget to check databases outside of Westlaw and Lexis like Google Scholar, Copley Databases (e.g. JSTOR), and prepublication databases such as BePress and SSRN.
Good seminar papers and student comments will combine a variety of primary sources as well as secondary scholarly resources like books, journal articles, and sometimes newspaper/magazine articles.
The first step in ensuring proper attribution is to cultivate good note-taking habits.
If you cut & paste text from another source to look at later, immediately mark it as copied text & include the bibliographic data you’ll need for a citation.
Alternatively, if you’re taking notes from a source, distinguish your own ideas and analysis with some marking.
Save your notes and sources until you have finished writing your paper and received a final grade.
Double-check your work against each source to make sure you have not accidentally plagiarized something.
Whenever you copy anything, you must put quotation marks around it. Merely citing the source for the quote is not sufficient.
Tips & Tricks
To paraphrase is to restate the meaning of a segment of text using other words, either
It's not enough to simply change a few words around, or replace words with synonyms!
Actually there are MANY apps for that. Two popular options are Evernote and Microsoft OneNote.
Or, search for note taking applications. See for example https://www.lifewire.com/best-note-taking-apps-4136590
Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing (2017)
Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers (2005)
Typical Outline of a Note (from NYU Law, the Writing Process)
Legal papers typically cite according the The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, Twenty-First Edition.
Don't forget to use the index and tables at the back of the Bluebook if you are having trouble locating a specific example.
The LRC has print copies of the Bluebook available for checkout.
Plagiarism is the presentation of another person's work as your own.
It can be deliberate or accidental; partial or complete.
Plagiarism can include:
Plagiarism violates USD’s Honor Code. Consequences of plagiarism can include:
Access the full USD Honor Code here.
By virtue of enrollment at the University of San Diego School of Law, all students are on notice of this Honor Code and its provisions.
Each student is responsible for reading, understanding, and complying with this Honor Code and for reporting any violations of the Honor Code.
A violation (e.g. plagiarism) may be either an infraction or a serious violation.
Minor infractions may result in a reduction in grade, withdrawal from the course, retaking of the course, additional work for the course.
Serious violations are handled by the Honor Code Hearing Committee and can result in expulsion, suspension, a letter of censure, the need for additional courses or credits, or other sanctions.
Use these free online tutorials and quizzes to further hone your skills in identifying plagiarism:
SafeAssign is a Blackboard tool where students can submit drafts of papers to check for possible instances of plagiarism before they submit final drafts to their course instructors. SafeAssign is free to USD students.
SafeAssign compares submitted drafts to its database of scholarly research (journal articles, student papers, and other internet sources) and returns a Originality Report detailing the percentage of text in the submitted paper that matches existing sources. The report shows the suspected sources for each section of the submitted paper that returns a match.
SafeAssign does not automatically detect plagiarism. It is up to the student to interpret the meaning of the Originality Report.
For help understanding your Originality Report, please click here.
Papers submitted through SafeAssign on the Legal Research Center's page will not be saved in SafeAssign's database and will not be distributed to instructors.
For questions email the LRC Reference desk.
This option is time-sensitive and the two submission seasons during the year are February to early April and August-October. Submissions to student-edited journals is usually done through Scholastica. For questions or help setting up an account with Scholastica contact the reference desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After you set up an account, you'll have to select which journals you'd like to submit to. It can be difficult to narrow down your choices but in general you want to keep in mind the overall reputation of the journal and/or subject specialties. Washington & Lee has a reputable journal ranking system here: https://managementtools4.wlu.edu/LawJournals/. Just like applying to law schools, you want to submit to a range of journals including ones that you think you have a very good chance at getting and others that are more of a reach. For more information on publishing student work and a list of policies from 196 law reviews with respect to publishing student work, check out this article faculty at UMKC School of Law: Submission of Law Student Articles for Publication.
Before embarking on your journey, read a USD student's perspective on getting published: Justin Shields '18, How Can I Get Published?, Motions.
There are tons of writing competitions that run throughout the year. Although writing competitions do have deadlines, there are no strict "seasons" like student-edited journals. Check out lists of potential writing competitions here https://abaforlawstudents.com/events/law-student-competitions/writing-competitions/ and here https://www.sandiego.edu/law/current/writing-competitions.php.
A call for papers is an announcement by editors of a journal or organizers of a conference that they are seeking papers on a given theme. Here are some up-to-date blogs that post calls for papers: https://www.thefacultylounge.org/calls-for-papers/ and http://www.legalscholarshipblog.com/category/type/calls-for-papers/.