During law school I did pretty well. In my last year I was selected to be on the law review editorial board, which I thought was the most important achievement of my law school career. I became a "managing editor," which meant being primarily responsible for obsessing about Bluebook citation form. This position is highly prized, mostly because law review editors can't do much beyond applying style rules and checking basic legal propositions. Neither I, nor my fellow editors, had any idea of what constituted 'proper legal scholarship,' or scholarship in general for that matter. But that didn't stop us from lording over submitting authors as though we were Emperors at the Roman Coliseum.
Upon graduation I went to work for a federal trial judge. He was whip smart and well-respected. He had been the Editor-in-Chief of the same law review when he was in law school. I assumed, therefore, that he held law review service in high esteem. During the job interview he scanned my resume and then quickly observed that nothing I learned while on the law review would be of any practical use to me as a lawyer.
I was stunned. But I was relieved to find out that I would nevertheless be offered a two year clerkship.
During my clerkship I came to learn that he'd once submitted an article to his alma mater, as a favor to someone I believe, but the law review board edited it without his permission. And then published it. They changed key words, and altered the carefully crafted meaning. As a result, one of his key points was totally distorted. He complained ferociously to the Dean about the lack of 'adult supervision,' but was told: 'this is the way that all law reviews are run.' It completely baffled him that mere students would be given editorial power over lawyers with vastly more experience.
Pretty much everything about legal academia baffled him.
When he passed away, I wrote a blog post about what it was like to serve in his chambers. The final passage ended with me describing how he used to come down the hallway and bellow my last name, which he used to mispronounce as 'Swenson.' The point was that he had a profound influence on me, even though he never learned how to pronounce my last name. No one who read the article could fail to miss the bittersweetness of this point, as it captured a small –but important– part of his personality.
Someone came up with the idea of doing at tribute issue in the law review. Many people wrote essays about the Judge and his many accomplishments. I was asked permission to have my blog post republished. I agreed, and emailed the editors the text file.
My words didn't need any editing, or fact checking. They didn't contain citations, and there were no Bluebook issues. Nevertheless, they couldn't just publish the article as written (that would belie the fact that that being a law review editor served little purpose). So, they naturally set about editing my words.
And guess what got changed?
Yep, they changed the final passage. And, just as they had with the judge many years before, they never gave me the chance to correct their mistake. What was their mistake? They changed the passage so that my name was spelled correctly, which completely eliminated bittersweet charm and pretty much ruined the ending. But, I'm sure whoever made the change felt a small moment of pride at having "caught" my mistake, saving me from the embarrassment of having misspelled my own last name.
Oh, the irony!!!
All they had to do was copy and paste what I sent them. But the right thing, the easiest thing, was simply not within their skill set. My judge was right: law review experience is worthless.
In many cases, it might actually be dangerous.