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 second in this series is an interview with Volume 75 Editor-in-Chief, Jose M. Espinosa.
Q: What responsibilities did you have over the summer you participated in the Writing Competition?
A: Like many of my peers, I was a judicial intern over my first summer. I interned for Judge Norma S. Lindsey of the Florida Third District Court of Appeal for approximately forty hours a week. On top of that, I took a three-credit class. I was initially only going to take the day before my note was due off, but when I told my clerk and judge that I was going to participate in the Writing Competition, they forced me to take the week off because they knew how important law review was (our competition was one week long).
Q: Despite these responsibilities, what motivated you to participate in the Writing Competition?
A: I knew that writing onto the University of Miami Law Review (or, really, any of the other reviews) would make the biggest possible positive impact on my career. Frankly, I thought—and now know—that the “law review experience” would make me a better writer, a more thorough researcher, and a careful Bluebooker. As a first generation law student, I never really knew about law review until my Spring semester of 1L when it became apparent that those on law review had a distinct advantage in their interviews during the summer and beyond, so I shot my shot.
Q: What was the most challenging thing for you about the Writing Competition?
A: It is difficult to think back and select one thing that is the most challenging about the competition. A few things, however, stand out. Chiefly, putting pen to paper was very difficult. I knew that the most successful competitors thought outside the box and came to a creative, well-articulated conclusion, so I spent multiple days outlining my answer and making sure I picked the best sources going into writing. Another difficult thing was cutting back on unnecessary, repetitive, and passive language. This was hard because twelve pages of text was not very much space at all once I got into the thick of my note. I ended up giving myself a maximum of thirteen pages and then forced myself to cut it down to the twelve pages required for the competition—this was another really important thing I was told going into the competition: follow the formatting instructions. It was also difficult not to psych myself out. I tried to write at school, which was nice for a bit, but too many people were at school doing what I was doing and I started to worry I was not working as hard as they were, so I just stayed home for the rest of the competition.
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 ordered the printed packet of the competition materials, so I went and picked those up the day of the competition. I carefully bookmarked all the sources, which were already sorted by type of source, and read through the packet once. While reading, I made little notes on each source at the top of the first page indicating what side of the argument the case supported. I then decided for which side I wanted to argue and gathered about half of the sources I ended up using before writing.
Q: If you had to do anything differently during the Competition what would you have done?
A: Without a single doubt, I would have devoted as much time as I did writing to editing. I only edited my note four times the day before the note was due. Now, reading my note again to answer these questions, I am finding a lot of very silly mistakes that I would have caught by editing more. My experience on law review has taught me that writing is a three step process (researching, writing, and editing), and each step is just as important as the others.
Q: What would you say was the best thing you did do during the Competition?
A: By far, the best thing I did during the competition was that I read all the materials and formulated my creative argument before I began writing.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would you give to someone participating in the Writing Competition this year?
A: I would really recommend reading law review articles before starting the competition. Not necessarily for the content—although it is best that you read articles that will inform you in some way—but to become accustomed to the law review style. Law review articles are written very differently than, say, legal memoranda, motions, or appellate briefs. This is why your success in LCOMM does not necessarily translate into success in the Writing Competition—it is a very different thing to write in legal academia than it is to write for the court or a partner (although grammar and Bluebooking skills do carry over, the former more than the latter). On that note, know that (as we discussed in the “How to Write a Casenote” Workshop) the white pages of the Bluebook (not the blue pages, which is what you use in LCOMM) apply to academic legal writing.
Q: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share about the Competition not covered by these questions?
A: I want to elaborate a little more about what I mean when I say “edit.” I purchased the cheapest printer on Amazon I could find (which, really, is an investment every law student should make; having a printer is very helpful throughout a semester) and printed out a copy of my note—endnotes and all—each time I edited. I would read the paper aloud (while this may be silly, it really helps to hear the words you wrote spoken) and made markings on paper each time I passed through the note. I cannot stress enough how important editing your paper is to your success in this competition.