Choose a General Area
The first way to narrow the field of research is to choose an area that interests you. This area does not have to be the field in which you ultimately plan to practice or teach. But keep in mind that you will spend many hours—over the course of several months if not over a year—researching your topic and writing and editing your Note. Don’t sabotage yourself from the start by selecting an area where you think you “ought” to write but that isn’t going to keep you engaged throughout the process. At the same time, it bears emphasis that there is no such thing as a “perfect” Note topic. It is equally, if not more, important that you choose a topic that is discrete and narrow enough to be handled well within the confines of a Note. The real value in writing Note is the experience you gain in constructing a methodologically sound legal argument. In engaging in this kind of analysis you’ll find that your interest can be piqued by a wide array of topics, including some you may not have considered by focusing only in your favorite subject areas.
"If you're reading cases, or you're reading law review articles, or if you're reading anything else, you won't have any trouble knowing what to write because ideas will just come into your head."
—Professor Barry Friedman
Start reading. If you are unsure of the area in which you want to write, start by reading a broad range of articles in a variety of journals—preferring highly-ranked ones—to develop a sense of what areas may interest you, as well as the kinds of topics that warrant articles, and how law professors write. If you are confident of your area of interest, read within that area to get a sense of unanswered questions you may wish to address. As you read and become engaged with the ideas being discussed, you will begin to formulate your own thoughts on the subject.
Your summer job can be a great way of finding a Note topic. Talk to your boss about your interest in writing—she may have a topic in mind already. Professors can also point you in the right direction, if you have a general topic interest and are looking to narrow your choices.
If you have a background in an area other than law, put it to work for you. Consider whether there is literature in another field that might provide insights into legal problems or whether, for example, you can use your social science or empirical training to your advantage.
To search cases that cite circuit court splits on Westlaw or Lexis, search the federal court cases database using the term “circuit w/2 split!” plus the general topic area you are interested in, e.g., “sentencing.”
Consider Other Sources
There are many sources of potential topics. One starting point is recent cases, regulations or legislation. Of course, you will be writing much more deeply than a simple case note, but recent developments such as these may serve as potential jumping off points for your Note.
US Law Week, available for free via the Westlaw Law School site, is an excellent resource for your initial research. Each week, US Law Week publishes summaries of new judicial, legislative and regulatory developments. You can access these summaries by entering Westlaw’s US Law Week database and searching “digest.” For students looking to survey all areas of law, the “General Law” section may prove most helpful. However, if you already have a general sense of the area of law on which you wish to write—perhaps you are looking for a topic that will tie to a seminar you are taking—US Law Week also sorts the case summaries by subject matter (i.e., “Employment Law”).
You may also find potential articles by considering unanswered questions that have been discussed in class or in your text books.
Reading law-related blogs is also an excellent way to get a sense of which topics are generating debate in the legal community. Law Blog Central is a great place to get started, on this front. The site contains a central listing of many other useful law-related sites.
We also recommend the following sites as useful sources of potential topics:
- The American Constitution Society: https://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/
- The Legal Workshop: http://legalworkshop.org/
- PrawfsBlawg: https://prawfsblawg.blogs.com
- SCOTUSBlog: https://www.scotusblog.com
- Split Circuits: https://splitcircuits.blogspot.com
- The Volokh Conspiracy: https://reason.com/volokh/
Check out these sources for more suggestions on finding a topic:
- Academic Careers Program, https://www.law.nyu.edu/acp
- Elizabeth Fajans & Mary R. Falk, Scholarly Writing for Law Students: Seminar Papers, Law Review Notes, and Law Review Competition Papers (2d ed. 2000).
- Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing: Law Review Articles, Student Notes, and Seminar Papers (2003). Also, check out Professor Volokh’s website: http://www2.law.ucla.edu/volokh/writing.
- Richard Delgado, How to Write a Law Review Article, 20 U. San Francisco L. Rev. 445 (1986).
- LexisNexis, Tutorial on Note Topic Selection, available at https://www.lexisnexis.com/documents/LawSchoolTutorials/20080711120255_small.pdf
- Westlaw, Survival Guide: Writing a Law Review Article, available at https://lscontent.westlaw.com/images/banner/SurvivalGuide/PDF08/08WritingLRArticle.pdf