FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
Journal articles are the dread of all law students. They are long, confusing and difficult to find. Most students don't even know why they have to include them in their assignments. The good news is that once you put a bit of an effort into learning more about legal journals, they can really help you to improve your essay grades and get a first. So, let's get started!
What are law journal articles?
Journal articles are effectively long essays on a particular topic, usually written by law lecturers who have a very good knowledge of it. For that reason, they are usually written in a complicated language which you might find a little bit tricky to understand at first, unless you have done some reading in the textbook. Journal articles are published in law journals which are (so to speak) magazines for law academics and professionals. In the past they used to be printed, but these days many of them are published purely online.
Each journal these days has its own website, from which you access copies of its articles. For example, this is the website of the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. It allows you to pay the subscription fee which in turn allows you to access individual articles published in the journal (i.e. on its website). But more about this later. Journals which contain academic articles in law are usually called a "journal" or a "law review". For our purposes there is not much difference between the two, so you can use in your essays articles from either of those. Journals can either be focused on a specific type of law, such as the Medical Law Review or they can publish articles about different types of law, such as the Modern Law Review.
How are law articles organised in journals?
Most legal journals have their articles organised into "volumes" which are then divided into "issues". This helps to identify exactly where to find a specific journal article, particularly if a journal publishes hundreds of articles every year. The volumes and issues will typically be numbered. For example, you will find an article which will be published in volume 3, issue 2 of the 2018 publication of a particular journal. Sometimes, however, volumes and issues can be named after the season (Spring, Summer, Winter etc.) or the month in which they were published. Here is an example of the May issue of the Modern Law Review which was published in 2019.
However, this used to be more of a concern in the past when accessing journal articles involved going to the library and looking for the actual physical copy of the publication, identifying the year of the publication, the volume and the issue in which the journal was published. These days, due to databases such as Westlaw and LexisNexis which make the search way easier, many journals are skipping the volumes and just publish their articles in issues. That doesn't mean, however, that you can skip including the information about the year of publication, the issue etc. in the bibliography and footnotes of your essay. These are still a major part of academic practice.
How to find law journal articles?
The good news is that you won't have to go bankrupt over journal subscriptions - your university has already taken care of that for you by purchasing access to Westlaw and/or LexisNexis. Those two are large legal databases which pull together articles from a broad variety of law journals, including the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. In practice, that means that if you are in need of finding journal articles on a specific topic you should run a search on that topic on Westlaw and/or LexisNexis instead of desperately scrolling through the websites of several different journals. But more on this later.
Neither Westlaw nor LexisNexis will grant you access to all law journal articles ever created. Whether or not you will be given access to individual articles will depend on your university's subscriptions. But using the two of them together will guarantee you access to all articles which you will need to read during your LLB. So if you will be looking to find some new journal articles on a specific topic, your best chance of finding them is by running a search on Westlaw and/or LexisNexis. If you want to find out exactly how to do it step-by-step then check out my First Class Law Essay Writing Course which contains a detailed tutorial on finding journal articles.
Why use journal articles in your law essays?
The first reason is that you simply don’t have enough knowledge about law yourself at this stage to formulate well though-through arguments about individual areas of law. And when I say "you" I don't just mean you personally. This applies to all undergraduate law students. Studying for your LLB degree is an opportunity for you to learn how to formulate such arguments. And what a better way to do it than to read the "essays" of more experienced academic writers, aka journal articles.
Secondly, it will be very difficult for you to get a first in your law assignments if you don't include academic opinion from journal articles in them. Your essays are mini-attempts at getting you settled in the world of academia, and the whole ethos of the academic world is about comparing and contrasting your views with the views of others to create more knowledge. But you can't exactly compare your views against those of others if you haven't at first presented their views in your work. That's why first class law essays include both brief explanations of academic opinions from journal articles and the views of the student author about those opinions.