Over the weeks leading up to the 2020 Writing Competition, we will be posting interviews with some of our members who wrote on to UMLR in the 2019 Writing Competition. This series will look at the best practices for competitors to follow during the Competition and what pitfalls to avoid. The first in this series is an interview with Volume 75 Senior Notes & Comments Editor, Esther Ponce de Leon.
Q: What responsibilities did you have over the summer you participated in the Writing Competition?
A: I worked full-time as a judicial intern the summer of the Writing Competition. However, I was able to plan my schedule to take the week of the Writing Competition off.
Q: Despite these responsibilities, what motivated you to participate in the Writing Competition?
A: I wanted to participate in the Writing Competition because I knew what a great opportunity working on a law review would be. UMLR was my first-choice option because of its great alumni network and because I wanted to work with the ambitious students who make it on to the Review. I also wanted to make sure my legal writing skills were as refined as they could be.
Q: What was the most challenging thing for you about the Writing Competition?
A: The most challenging part of the Writing Competition was organizing all the materials we were given at the beginning and deciding how they would fit into my analysis. We had so many materials to choose from that it seemed overwhelming at first. But I made it easier for myself by writing quotes and ideas from the materials I knew I wanted to use on some scrap paper as I read. And then, following that, thinking about how those quotes and ideas could apply to how I wanted to analyze the prompt.
Q: What was your strategy for approaching the material? Did you start by reading all of the materials? Or did you approach it a different way?
A: I started by reading the prompt and the main case. I then read the cases cited by the main case to understand the origins of the issue. Once I read through the most relevant caselaw, I looked at the attached secondary sources to see how other people wrote articles on the topic. I spent about half of the Competition going through and organizing materials, so I knew how I wanted to write my analysis, and the other half writing the note. I worked on my note as if it were a full-time job for the Competition’s duration.
Q: If you had to do anything differently during the Competition what would you have done?
A: If I could do the Competition over, I would set page goals for each day of the Competition. The analysis is the most important part of the case note, so I spent the most time working on that part; however, I could have written the introduction and described the precedent earlier in the writing period to get them out of the way when I was writing the analysis at the end.
Q: What would you say was the best thing you did do during the Competition?
I think the best thing I did during the Competition was Bluebooking early. I created a citation every time I cited to a source, which gave me more time at the end to perfect my analysis section. I created citations for the most important materials as I read through them, which saved me time when writing. Doing the citations first, I knew that my cites were correctly Bluebooked and I could just copy/paste them in as endnotes while I wrote.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would you give to someone participating in the Writing Competition this year?
A: Pace yourself. The Writing Competition is a marathon, not a sprint. Even though it can seem overwhelming at first, if you work on the case note a little every day, you will get it done.
Also, finish! It may feel tempting to stop in the middle of the Competition, but do your best and turn in something at the end. Everyone feels the way you do about the amount of materials and the requirements, so you are definitely not alone. Turning in something gives you as good a chance as anyone else to get chosen for a law review.
Q: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share about the Competition not covered by these questions?
A: Take advantage of the longer period for the Writing Competition! Give yourself an earlier deadline so that you have those extra days to look over your citations and what you have written. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative in your introduction, analysis, and conclusion. If you tie your intro and conclusion together, that works as nice bookends to your paper for the read.
Good luck! You will get through the Competition! And you will be a better legal writer because of it!